Massachusetts’ efforts to stop next whale extinction


By Andy Duncan

In less than 25 years the North Atlantic Right Whale will be extinct, according to experts who spoke with the Washington Post last week.

Massachusetts, however, is doing what it can to try and prevent the next marine mammal extinction from happening on at their metaphorical front door.

“Where the hell are the whales?” marine biologist Charles “Stormy” Mayo said to the Washington Post recently on a research mission to monitor the fate of the North Atlantic Right Whales from a boat in the Atlantic waters off the shore of Massachusetts.

Unfortunately, the global population of North Atlantic Right Whale is so low that Mayo and other experts fear the species may become extinct in less than 25 years. In fact, given the recent mortality rates in the species, global extinction could happen in just a few years.

“The whales are a metaphor for what we have done to the planet,” Mayo said.

In 2016, experts identified 451 North Atlantic Right Whales. However, that was down from 482 in 2010 and would only get smaller. In June 2017, at least 18 whales were known to have died in U.S. and Canadian waters.

Current estimates on whale population numbers are around 430, the smallest global population in 10 years. What worries researchers the most is that they know they are able to quantify only a percentage of all whale population deaths.

“We think we could only be seeing half to a third of all mortalities,” Heather Pettis, executive administrator for the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, said. “It does not take very long for irreversible damage to be done to a very small population.”

Massachusetts enacts regulations

Most of the whales killed have died due to getting tangled in lobster pots on the ocean floor and other fishing gear in the water column.

On April 25, new laws and regulations were announced by the Division of Marine Fisheries in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Two new regulations were introduced with the intent of helping the remaining whales and prevent the species’ extinction that appears to be unavoidable with alterations to human behavior.

The first half of the new laws is to push back the time when lobsterman and others can set their traps in the water by one week. April 30 used to the be first day traps could place in the water, but with new laws the first day will be May 7.

The second half of the legislation reduces vessel speed to 10 knots in parts of Cape Cod Bay.

Here is the entire report issued by the Divison of Marine Fisheries:

The Division of Marine Fisheries has enacted two emergency regulations to protect vulnerable aggregations of endangered northern right whales in Cape Cod Bay. These regulations, effective immediately, are designed to reduce the risk of collisions with vessels and entanglements.

Extension of Trap Gear Closure
The existing February 1 – April 30 Large Whale Trap Gear Closure is being extended through Sunday, May 6 for a portion of Cape Cod Bay. This extension of the trap gear closure only applies within those waters of Cape Cod Bay south of 42° 08’ north latitude and those waters north of Cape Cod east of 70° 10’ (map). The closure extension does not apply to those waters north of Cape Cod on Stellwagen Bank or those waters east of 70° 10’ within the Outer Cape Cod Lobster Management Area. Affected lobstermen may begin to set their gear on Monday, May 7 unless this closure is lifted or extended. The duration of this closure extension may be shortened or further prolonged based on the results of continuing aerial surveys.

Vessel Speed Limit
Through May 15, 2018, a 10 knot vessel speed limit will be in effect for those waters of Cape Cod Bay south of 42° 08’ north latitude and those waters north of Cape Cod east of 70° 10’ (map). Exempt from this rule are emergency and enforcement vessels, as well as those vessels operating within Plymouth Bay shoreward of Gurnet Point and Barnstable and Wellfleet Harbors. This new state rule applies only to vessels less than 65’ overall length; vessels greater than 65’ length operating in state and adjacent federal waters are already subject to a longstanding seasonal federal 10 knot vessel speed limit. The duration when this speed restriction is in effect may be shortened based on the results of continuing aerial surveys by PCCS.



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