Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.
- According to the Christian Science Monitor and the good folks at the IUCN, North Atlantic right whales are endangered. (See what that means here.) What are some threats to the North Atlantic right whale? Use our activity for some guidance.
- Natural threats include predators such as sharks and killer whales.
- Human activity that threatens North Atlantic right whale populations includes:
- noise. Noise from shipping may alter natural behaviors and migration patterns.
- disturbance from whale-watching activity. Boats and even divers may alter natural behaviors and migration routes.
- climate change. Rising ocean temperatures may force the whales’ species range to shrink to its northern habitat.
- pollution and habitat degradation. Marine debris may have an enormous impact on the ability of whales to feed and migrate. Marine debris may include large pieces of trash, tiny microplastics, and even pollutants that alter the chemistry of ocean water.
- ship collisions. In U.S. waters, large vessels, such as container ships, are required to travel at less than 10 knots (11.5 miles per hour) in areas where North Atlantic right whales feed, reproduce, or migrate.
- entanglements in fishing gear. North Atlantic right whales can become entangled in “the fishing nets and traps bobbing along the Eastern Seaboard, tethered by ropes that can snare the whales.” Lobster traps, which sit on the seafloor while ropes connected to buoys bob on the surface, are the prime example of this type of fishing gear.
- North Atlantic right whales are enormous mammals—up to 15 meters (50 feet) and 79 tons. How could fishing ropes injure animals this big and powerful?
- North Atlantic right whales can break through any ropes not designed to withstand about 771 kilograms (1,700 pounds) of pressure. The ropes currently being used are made to withstand much more pressure than that—the ropes are, in a lot of ways, stronger than the whales.
- These seemingly innocuous, nonviolent ropes and nets are “probably the biggest threat that [North Atlantic right whales are] facing right now.” If entangled in a rope or net, whales “can drown, suffer fatal cuts, or endure ‘sub-lethal effects:’ injuries that leave them less able to feed or reproduce.”
- The project being developed by fishermen and conservationists is ropes and nets designed to break at 1,700 pounds. What are the challenges to this seemingly simple solution?
- money. The gear designed to break at 1,700 pounds has to be specially made and ordered. Massachusetts lobsterman Mike Lane says, “these things are quite labor-intensive to make … We’re hoping that there would be a company that makes a rope that just breaks at 1,700 pounds, that you could just buy off the shelves.”
- location. The solution only applies to nearshore fisheries, such as the lobster industry. Deeper waters demand stronger ropes.
- data. The tracking data available for fishing gear is not as robust as fisheries managers or conservationists would like. “With the vast majority of entanglements, ‘you really don’t have any indication of what specific fishery, or location, or even country of origin that the entanglement occurred.’”
Christian Science Monitor: How a better rope could help save the endangered right whale
Nat Geo: North Atlantic Right Whales activity
NOAA Fisheries: North Atlantic Right Whale