“With fresh thinking and bold action, now is the time to solve this. Let’s get to work.”

  —C.T. Harry, Marine Campaigner, IFAW

In July, a collaborative team from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), and underwater technology manufacturer Desert Star Systems, set out on the waters of Cape Cod Bay, taking the first critical steps of a lengthy but promising path to save the North Atlantic right whale from possible extinction.  

For hundreds of years, the ‘right whale’ has inhabited waters from New England and Canada to the coasts of Georgia and Florida, areas heavy with both shipping traffic and commercial fishing. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the population has dwindled to an estimated 435 individuals, decimated by unintentional ship strikes and chronic entanglements in fishing gear.  With 17 recorded deaths last year, and no new calves sighted in the most recent calving season, this iconic marine mammal is at a tipping point and the population will not recover without serious intervention.

Research shows that approximately 83 percent of right whales have experienced entanglement at least once in their lifetime, while entanglement related deaths accounted for 85% of diagnosed mortalities since 2010.  The urgent need to find a long-term solution has helped lay the foundation of collaboration between IFAW, MLA, and companies such as Desert Star to accelerate the development and adoption of whale-safe technology.     

Through the widespread implementation of whale-safe gear, we can decrease the number of vertical rope lines in the water to ensure safe passage through migration corridors and into critical feeding areas for right whales and all marine mammals. Removing harmful vertical lines could significantly reduce entanglements, and likely lead to reductions in fishery closures. With the potential economic upside created by fewer closures, commercial lobstermen will have the opportunity to stay on the water and maintain their way of life.  Ensuring the livelihood of local lobstermen while also ensuring the survival of the right whale itself is ultimately the most sustainable long-term solution.

At IFAW we realize that the problems we confront are urgent, they are complicated, and they are often resistant to change.  Solving them requires collaboration, fresh thinking and bold actions to create solutions that make an immediate and lasting impact.  Because each individual matters in conservation, our work focuses on linking the value of each individual to the health of the population and ecosystem at large.  The testing of new whale-safe fishing gear via this collaborative and innovative partnership marks a fundamental shift towards the achievement of bringing this majestic species back from a critical tipping point.  

Let’s get to work. 

–CTH

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Article source: IFAW

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