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North Atlantic right whale #1950 and new calf © Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #26919. Aerial survey funded by NOAA Fisheries and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

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Minor entanglements cause major harm

Accidental entanglements in fishing gear are the largest threat to the recovery of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. To reduce the chances of a whale dying in gear, regulations have focused on reducing the breaking strength of gear, assuming that weaker rope may harm, but not kill whales. However, newly released research contradicts that assumption. 

According to the study, entanglements of any severity on female right whales result in devastating consequences. Female right whales who experienced “minor” entanglements showed the lowest chances of successfully breeding.   

“Simply keeping whales alive is not enough,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, WDC-NA executive director. “Accidental entanglements have become a cruel version of birth control for a species whose recovery relies on healthy females who can have calves.”

These data further support the need to find alternatives to allow both fishing communities and right whales to thrive. WDC and its partners are working to trial and improve on-demand fishing technologies. This new technology offers another option to fish that does not risk the fate of a species.

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