tough time locating whales tangled in fishing gear
BY NINA CHIARELLI
There are at least
10 whales currently tangled in fishing gear, roaming the waters off North
America's eastern seaboard.
"In any given season, we
estimate that eight percent of right whales get tangled and three percent of
humpback whales get tangled," said Scott Landry, a naturalist and whale rescue
team member with the Center for Coastal Studies, in Provincetown, Mass.
With only about 350 right whales left in the world, about
30 of the endangered species could be in harm's way at any given time.
Right now, three humpbacks and seven right whales remain
tangled in the Atlantic Ocean off New England and the Bay of Fundy, he said.
"It doesn't mean all the whales are in lethal entanglements," Mr. Landry said.
But at least one young whale, identified by the number
3120, and seen over the two weeks near Grand Manan and off the coast of Cape
Cod, could be close to death. "It's probably on the fast tract to dying," he
said, adding entanglements with whales like 3120, about two-years-old and
younger, usually kill the mammals.
Since the whale could
be prevented from growing, and plunging for food while tangled in fishing gear,
its chances for survival are limited.
The problem for
biologists and researchers, though, remains locating the animals. In Canada the
Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Coast Guard work together to respond
to tangled whale sightings, in the hopes of attaching tracking buoys to them,
making it easier for trained professionals to remove the netting.
In the United States, Mr. Landry's non-profit centre is
the only organization legally entitled by the federal government and
responsible for disentangling the ensnared whales. "We started doing it around
1984," Mr. Landry said. "And over the years we have learned that it's a great
idea to get the satellite buoy on (a whale) to keep its location and be able to
"Once we get close enough, our general practice
is to tire the whales out with a method calling kegging."
Kegging, reminiscent of ancient whaling techniques that
used largewooden kegs, attaches a large buoy to; the whale causing extra
buoyancy and drag, which tires the whales out and usually makes them surface
longer and more frequently.
"We try to document every
minute of (our work)" he said, adding "humpbacks are much more amenable to
" Success at removing netting and fishing
gear from right whales can be more difficult, Mr. Landry said, because they're
faster and stronger swimmers. The whales are usually in an agitated state as
well, which can make it very hard for trained volunteers to free them.
Two current practices used by the Center for Coastal
Studies, called SAMS and DAMS, are area management strategies designed for
specific seasons, or with an overall dynamic approach. Mr. Landry said if the
centre recognizes an area frequented by the whales during a specific season,
they will ask fishermen in the area to move nets or change their practices.
Dynamic area management strategies can be harder because
although whales can be spotted in an area, they travel long distances very
quickly, often eluding trackers.
One thing Mr. Landry
said he could be sure of was the number of entanglements was not declining. "At
this point there is no reason to believe they're decreasing at all.