The Right Whale Thing to Do
Dr. Sean Brillant is a Senior Conservation Biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation with a focus on Marine Conservation. He is CWF’S lead on the critical plight of right whales.
The Canadian Wildlife Federation is calling for an immediate 30 per cent reduction in risk to right whale entanglement to help protect the critically endangered species. Sean Brillant, CWF senior conservation biologist, tells us why Canada needs to seize this opportunity to save the majestic animal. With only about 500 North Atlantic right whales remaining, Brillant says we must act now.
HOW CAN WE HELP PREVENT ENTANGLEMENT?
CWF has proposed a relatively simple strategy that could prevent the death of one or two right whales every year. This can be achieved if we restrict fishing from two small areas off the coasts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia during the summer. This is enough to make the difference between the recovery and extinction of the species. The reduction in risk would be substantial, and the disruption to fisheries would be minimal. About 108 right whales become entangled in fishing line each year. That’s one in five. This can’t continue.
HOW WOULD THIS PLAN AFFECT THE LOCAL FISHERY?
CWF’S plan calls for restricted fishing in the Grand Manan Basin (in the Bay of Fundy, N.B.) and the Roseway Basin (part of the Scotian
Shelf, N.S.) between July and October. These restrictions would displace only 140 tonnes of seafood catches, and this would be offset by achieving important sustainability targets. Reducing the risk of entangling right whales in commercial fishing gear will help secure Canadian seafood exports to the U.S., which now require importers to prove their catches were harvested with minimal harm to marine mammals. So essentially it’s a win-win. We will prevent whales from getting entangled in fishing line and sell more of the seafood we catch when the whales have left the area.
COULDN’T WE JUST CHANGE THE TYPE OF FISHING LINE SO IT DOESN’T HARM THE WHALES?
In the U.S., efforts to reduce entanglements through modified fishing gear have not been successful to date. The far better option is to stop fishing at locations and times where entanglement risk is elevated. In Atlantic Canada, almost all the entanglement risk to right whales occurs during July (12 per cent), August (50 per cent) and September (37 per cent). When whales become entangled, they suffer many wounds, have difficulty swimming and feeding, and may die. Even if they break free, the wounds and infections can cause slow, painful deaths. It’s just not right to let that continue.
WOULD REGULAR FISHING RESUME AFTER PEAK WHALE SEASON?
Yes, this would be a seasonal measure. The groundfish fishery contributes most (86 per cent) of the annual risk of entanglement for North Atlantic right whales. Groundfish in these basins include cod, haddock, hake and flounder. Fishing would resume in October so the impacts for local harvest would not be dramatic. Furthermore, if we do not see a reduction in entanglement rates after a few years with this plan, we will not want to continue it. We are only interested in changing fisheries in ways that will make real improvements to conservation.
HOW CAN I FIND OUT MORE AND GET INVOLVED?
• Hinterland Who’s Who is releasing a new video about right whales this summer. Check it out at hww.ca.
• Visit the Quest to Find Canada’s Great Whales page (Canadianwildlifefederation.ca/ whales). See Take Action at right for more.
• And don’t forget to notify the Canadian Marine Animal Response Alliance (CMARA) if you see a marine animal in distress (marineanimalresponse.ca).
Learn more at Canadianwildlifefederation.ca.
Severe entanglement scars mark the tail stalkofanorthatlantic right whale.