Doing the Right Thing for the Right Whale
BUTLER BEACH, Fla. - The death of a rare North Atlantic right whale on Butler Beach earlier this month has prompted renewed calls to authorities for quicker action on rules that could help avoid such entanglement deaths in the future. Only about 400 right whales are known to exist, and wildlife advocates are urging regulators and the industry to do a better job of keeping the whales away from fishing lines that can kill them.
Michael Moore is a senior researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. When right whales get tangled in fishing line, he says the outcomes are not good for the struggling animal.
"It's kind-of like loading a pickup truck full of gear or towing a trailer. It adds to the fuel consumption hugely."
One solution Moore suggests is getting as much line out of the water as possible, to avoid these preventable deaths.
In 2008, Defenders of Wildlife won a lawsuit to help advance the fishing industry's transition to sinking ground-line, and the organization continues to work in the courts and with the government to end right whale entanglement. The group is also pushing the government to move more quickly to address the problem of vertical lines in fixed fishing gear, which also threaten the whales.
Sierra Weaver, an attorney with Defenders of Wildlife, says one way to protect these animals is to move more quickly toward solutions that the fishing industry could adopt.
"We still want a vibrant fishing industry, obviously, but we need to find a way that we can have that fishing industry and have these whales live healthy lives at the same time."
With only 400 right whales in existence, every animal is very important, Weaver adds, and the loss of a young female who could have had calves to help keep the species viable is especially difficult.