MEPS 466:293-302 (2012)  -  doi:10.3354/meps09923

Monitoring North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis entanglement rates: a 30 yr retrospective

Amy R. Knowlton*, Philip K. Hamilton, Marilyn K. Marx, Heather M. Pettis, Scott D. Kraus

New England Aquarium, John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory, Central Wharf, Boston, Massachusetts 02110, USA

ABSTRACT: Entanglement in non-mobile fishing gear has been identified as one of the leading causes of mortality in North Atlantic right whales Eubalaena glacialis. To investigate this issue further, all available photographs of right whales taken from 1980 to 2009 were examined for evidence of entanglement with gear used in fisheries based on presence of rope or netting on the whale or scars inferred to have been caused by an encounter with rope. Photographs of 626 individual whales were assessed and 1032 unique entanglement events were documented. Of the 626 animals, 519 (82.9%) had been entangled at least once and 306 of the 519 (59.0%) had been entangled more than once. Males and females were entangled at similar rates. Juveniles were entangled at a higher rate than adults. On average, 25.9% of adequately photographed animals acquired new wounds or scars from fishing gear annually with no significant trend over time detected. However, the annual percentage of animals observed with rope on the body increased significantly during the study period, suggesting that it is becoming more difficult for whales to free themselves completely from fishing gear. Such high annual rates of entanglement remain a serious conservation concern for right whales because entanglements can have both lethal and sub-lethal effects. Federally required changes to fixed-gear fisheries in US waters have not reduced serious injuries and mortality to legally required levels. Here we show how documenting various annual rates of entanglement can monitor progress and impacts that fishing gear regulations may have on right whale recovery.

KEY WORDS: North Atlantic right whale · Eubalaena glacialis · Fishing gear · Entanglement · Scars · Conservation

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Cite this article as: Knowlton AR, Hamilton PK, Marx MK, Pettis HM, Kraus SD (2012) Monitoring North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis entanglement rates: a 30 yr retrospective. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 466:293-302

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