Right Whale Entanglement Peril Far More Extensive Than Previously Known

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Wednesday, March 13, 2024
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933

Right Whale Entanglement Peril Far More Extensive Than Previously Known

Even “Minor” Entanglements Push Species Closer to Extinction


Washington, DC — New research published today shows that critically endangered North Atlantic right whales are much more vulnerable to fishing line entanglement than previously thought, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Not only are right whale entanglements significantly more widespread but the damage inflicted is far more serious.    

Entanglements are a major element in the North Atlantic Right Whale’s decline. “Disentangling the influence of entanglement on recruitment in North Atlantic right whales,” published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, analyzes more than 40 years of data and reaches several new conclusions about the problem of these right whales becoming entangled in fishing lines, usually from lobster boats, including –   

  • The percentage of females who have been entangled is now up to 89%. Entanglement is so pervasive that it is difficult to find any females who have never been entangled.  
  • Any entanglement, even so-called “minor” entanglements, affects whether females will calve. Low levels of North Atlantic right whale calving have been flat for decades; and  
  • By design, weak breakaway rope does not reduce the amount of rope in the water; thus, this type of rope reduces the potential severity of entanglements without reducing either the likelihood of their occurrence, or the devastating effects. 

“The biggest takeaway from this research is that there is no such thing as a ‘minor’ entanglement – any entanglement adversely affects the female’s ability to reproduce,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, pointing to the research finding that right whales with less severe entanglements had the lowest probabilities for becoming breeders, contrary to assumptions underpinning the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) management approach. “In short, weak rope is not a solution to entanglements.” 

PEER also decries the lack of enforcement of legal protections for this endangered species and the lack of prosecution for violators. Even when lines from lobster boats are found wrapped around right whales, NOAA does not take legal action against violators. This enables the lobster industry to deny that it is part of the right whale mortality threat, even when there is clear evidence to the contrary. 


Read the paper

Meet a co-author, Dr. Peter Corkeron

See how NOAA’s deference to the fishing industry condemns right whales to extinction

View lobster industry denialism

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