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Survey: Widespread Public Support for Protecting Right Whales

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Friday, July 23, 2021   

BOSTON -- A new survey finds widespread public support up and down the East Coast for protecting right whales from getting tangled up in fishing gear, specifically, the vertical lines that connect lobster and crab traps from the sea floor to the surface.

Katharine Deuel, marine conservation officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts, which released the poll, said nine of 10 East Coast residents surveyed said it is important for the government to protect right whales.

"The North Atlantic Right Whale is a species that is currently in crisis," Deuel explained. "It is a critically endangered species, and there are only about 350 individual right whales left swimming in our waters."

Deuel added more than 70% of respondents support closing high-risk areas for whales to certain fishing gear, and nearly 90% support fishermen using gear that doesn't harm whales, which is becoming more widely available.

She pointed out such solutions can allow right whales and fishermen to coexist, and her group is among those that filed an emergency action petition with the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts, which also joined the petition, added there have been 34 confirmed deaths of right whales in U.S. and Canadian waters in the last four years.

He noted said even when whales do not die, getting caught up in vertical lines can cause them major stress.

"Scientists actually believe that it is one of the causes of declining birth rates among the right whale population, the sort of stress of these encounters is actually making it harder for them to reproduce," Hellerstein reported.

Hellerstein stated there is something about North Atlantic right whales that resonates with people.

"You know, these animals are gentle giants," Hellerstein remarked. "They grow to be about the size of a school bus, and yet they feed almost entirely off of these small crustaceans."

The emergency action petition recommends prohibiting fishing with vertical lines in a few specific locations with the highest likelihood of right whale entanglement, one yearlong closure south of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, and five seasonal closures off the coast of Maine.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.


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