It’s been some kind of couple weeks for North Atlantic right whales.
In addition to the injured calf that remains a focus for a multiagency team of scientists in Georgia and Florida, researchers found a group of 60 right whales in the area of Nantucket Island, Mass., which included one noticeably and dangerously tangled up in fishing gear. And back down in the southern calving grounds, spotters discovered the fifth and sixth calves of the year.
In regard to the Massachusetts whale — identified as No. 3466 — toting heavy fishing lines, it appears the entanglement doesn’t carry the imminent threat of mortality, but it is a problem. A team with the Center for Coastal Studies Marine Animal Entanglement Response, CCS MAER, is waiting for its shot to go in and disentangle the whale. They have to be careful because a mistake while conducting the response could prove fatal to members of the team.
“Coupled with the generally high winds and short days of winter, this case presents a particular logistical challenge,” CCS MAER Director Scott Landry said to CapeCod.com. “As in all disentanglement operations, the team will be balancing human safety and the need to disentangle the whale.”
As to the calves, NOAA Fisheries announced they arrived through mothers Harmony, No. 3115, and Halo, No. 3456. It’s the fourth calf for Harmony, who is 19 years old, and the second calf for Halo, who is 15. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission took their photos on an aerial spotting run off Daytona and Flagler beaches.
The cycle between births was four years for Harmony and six years for Halo. Right whales can only calve once in a cycle, and what were three- to four-year cycles extended in recent years to 10-year cycles for some whales.
Also, regulatory work within the United States and between the United States and Canada on right whale conservation measures continues. NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver reported recently on efforts between the two countries, like talks between NOAA staff and officials with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada in Ottawa.
Oliver said discussions centered on, “Entanglement risk reduction in Northeast trap/pot gear to reduce serious injury and mortality to less than one (whale) per year, analyzing alternatives that reduce the number of lines and the strength of the line and, possibly, new seasonal closed areas, (and) continuing discussions of additional measures both countries can take throughout the species’ range to further reduce risks.”
Several conservation groups sued both Oliver and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in 2018 in federal district court in Washington, D.C., for failing to do their jobs in carrying out laws to protect the whales. Lobstermen’s associations in Maine and Massachusetts intervened on the part of the defense, as often it appears what makes the oceans safer for right whales makes business harder lobster and crab fishers.
Tuesday, the defense filed the third declaration of Jennifer Anderson, the assistant regional administrator for protected resources in NOAA Fisheries’ Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office. She stated rulemaking by Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, implementing recommendations made by the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, isn’t going as planned.
Maine sent its proposal to NOAA Fisheries on Jan. 3, and it notably differed from what Main proposed to the ALWTRT in April 2019, which is a problem. The other states were expected to get their plans in by Saturday. NOAA Fisheries is also known as the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Anderson wrote, “Once all these measures are known, NMFS will be able to analyze the expected conservation benefits from them, and will then be able to determine the measures to include in the federal rulemaking to accomplish the necessary conservation benefits for right whales.”
Anderson expressed the hope that they’ll have a draft biological opinion, a proposed rule and notice of availability of environmental impact statement sometime in July.
A 45-day public comment period would follow, as would review and addressing of the comments, then a final environmental impact statement and final rule.