Jan. 20, 2012

Entanglement

by Coastal Studies for Girls

Click to enlarge images

by Rachel, Coastal Studies for Girls

Two CSG students by a pile of discarded nets and rope that was brought in by local fisherman for disposal. These efforts help keep fishing gear that is no longer useable out of the ocean where marine mammals can become entangled.

Recently, Heather Tetreault from the Maine Lobstermen’s Association came to Coastal Studies for Girls to talk to us about the entanglement of marine mammals in fishing lines. She works in particular to save the North Atlantic Right Whales, a federally endangered species. There are only 450 known North Atlantic Right Whales left in the world and they are being hurt -- and even dying -- in encounters with fishing and lobster gear.

Heather told us how in her quest to devise strategies to prevent whale entanglements she visits different harbors in Maine and talks to lobstermen about their gear and where they fish for lobster. Researchers recorded five North Atlantic Right Whale deaths last year, and two of those deaths were caused by entanglement. Heather showed us the effects of the rope and fishing gear on the whales, how the rope rubbed against them and cut into their skin and their blubber. Some of the whales have huge scars from the rope, and are even identified by researchers from their rope scars.

Two CSG students stack old lobster traps for recycling. Underwater a few of these traps would be attached to each other by ropes, which put right whales at risk of entanglement. By changing the kinds of ropes lobstermen use, these entanglement incidents are becoming less frequent, but there is still room for improvement.

We have learned about entanglement of the North Atlantic Right Whales in lobstermen’s gear from a couple of our guest speakers. We have had the lobster trap systems explained to us a few times. We have learned that Maine lobstermen used to use a plastic, floating rope called float rope to connect the traps together on the ocean floor. Recently though, Maine’s government banned the float rope because it is the most common reason for entanglement of Atlantic Right Whales and other marine mammals. Now lobstermen may only use sinking rope, rope that sinks straight to the bottom of the ocean floor. Entanglements have declined as a result.

Another factor affecting entanglement is derelict fishing gear, gear that has been left behind by previous lobstermen. Various things such as derelict fishing gear, illegally used float rope, and other factors contribute to the number of entanglements. Consequently, the whales are being hurt and killed by the rope and other gear. Entanglements have been happening more and more frequently, but steps lobstermen are taking are helping slow this trend. Since the change of the float rope to the sinking rope, people are taking action to try to save the North Atlantic Right Whale from entanglement and extinction.

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Coastal Studies for Girls is the country’s only residential science and leadership semester school for 10th grade girls. CSG is dedicated to girls who have a love for learning and discovery, an adventurous spirit, and a desire to challenge themselves.

About Coastal Studies for Girls

Coastal Studies for Girls is the country’s only residential science and leadership semester school for 10th grade girls.

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