83% of right whale deaths not reported
BY JAY LINDSAY
than eight in 10 right whale deaths may be going undiscovered, according to
marine scientists who called for emergency action to help prevent humans from
accidentally killing the rare animal.
In an article
published in the journal Science, researchers estimated that deaths of North
Atlantic right whales may be underreported by as much as 83 per cent annually.
At least eight whales have died in the last 16 months, and only 350 of the
animals are believed to exist.
There isn't time for
proposed protections to slog through the U.S. rule-making process, Amy
Knowlton, a New England Aquarium researcher and one of the article's 18
co-authors, said Friday.
"We can't wait to deal with a
bureaucratic maze," Ms. Knowlton said.
regulators say emergency rules could be put in place six months earlier than
the normal 18- to 24-month process but would not be permanent and would not
save much time since the final rules are close to completion. Rules also could
do more harm than good without proper review and public comment, officials
WHALE: Two-thirds migrate to Bay of
Fundy for summer
The animals spend
the winter off the Carolinas and Florida and about two-thirds of them migrate
north each year to spend the summer feeding in the Bay of
The estimate of unreported whale deaths is based
on a population model that considers the known death rates of male, female and
juvenile right whales. Scientists don't presume a whale dead until it hasn't
been seen for six years.
The Science article, citing the
United States' Endangered Species Act, called for emergency rules to protect
against ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements, the two primary ways that
humans kill right whales.
Proposed rules include slowing
down ships in whale-heavy areas and reducing the amount of floating fishing
line in the water. Gear and voluntary speed restrictions are already in place,
but the new rules would significantly broaden requirements and improve their
effectiveness, advocates say.
"We really do have tangible
solutions in hand," Ms. Knowlton said. Teri Frady, spokeswoman for the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service in the U.S., said
final rules to protect whales from fishing gear entanglements should be in
force in the U.S. by the end of the year and the ship strike rules should be in
place by spring of 2006.
"It's not that doing something
dramatic isn't possible," Ms. Frady said. "It's figuring out what it's going to
be and whether it's going to work."
The proposed rules
have been questioned by fishermen, who worry new whale-safe gear requirements
would be too expensive, and the shipping industry, which says it would lose
money and compromise safety by slowing down or altering routes to avoid the
The North Atlantic right whale was nearly hunted
out of existence in the late 18th century and has struggled since. Scientists
said the eight known whale deaths in the last 16 months were particularly
devastating because four were females just starting to bear calves.