“As terrible as the news is that Maine lobster gear has killed a right whale — and a juvenile female no less — this should come as no surprise. The Maine lobster industry’s lobbyists and lawyers have been deceiving the public for years, claiming that Maine gear has never been tied to a right whale’s death, knowing full well that they’d successfully opposed gear-marking requirements for decades. Now that the Maine lobster industry finally has to mark its gear, it can no longer hide the truth.” 

Jane Davenport, Senior Attorney, Defenders of Wildlife
Washington, DC

NOAA Fisheries today announced that the fishing gear entangling the body of a juvenile female North Atlantic right whale that washed ashore on Martha’s Vineyard in January has been conclusively identified as originating from the Maine Lobster Fishery. 

“As terrible as the news is that Maine lobster gear has killed a right whale — and a juvenile female no less — this should come as no surprise,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “The Maine lobster industry’s lobbyists and lawyers have been deceiving the public for years, claiming that Maine gear has never been tied to a right whale’s death, knowing full well that they’d successfully opposed gear-marking requirements for decades. Now that the Maine lobster industry finally has to mark its gear, it can no longer hide the truth.” 

NOAA Fisheries identified the dead right whale as #5120, a juvenile female born in January 2021. The only known calf of Squilla, #3720, she was first spotted seriously entangled in August 2022, with multiple wraps around her tail and flukes, as well as 200 feet of trailing gear. In January 2023, multiple disentanglement efforts in Cape Cod Bay were unsuccessful. She was last seen in June 2023 with ropes still wrapped around her tail alongside severe wounds and evidence of poor body condition. Preliminary necropsy results confirmed a chronic entanglement, finding the animal’s body in thin condition and rope deeply embedded in its tail. 

“This right whale was no more than a year and a half old when she suffered the entanglement that ultimately killed her. She likely spent at least half of her short life in excruciating pain,” added Davenport. “We cannot avert our eyes from the fact that entanglements are not only pushing this species to the brink of extinction, but brutalizing whales in the process.” 

Image
2023.01.05- Right Whale Swimming with Calf-FWC-CC BY NC ND 2.0
FWC-CC BY NC ND 2.0

In 2022, the Maine congressional delegation successfully pushed to add a right whale “rider” to the 2023 congressional spending bill. The rider nullified a federal district court ruling requiring additional regulatory action to meet the standards of the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act by December 2024. The delegation moved the rider forward under the argument that Maine fishing gear doesn't entangle or kill right whales. 

Entanglements occur when whales get tangled in fishing ropes or nets, and can lead to injury, starvation and drowning. The energy spent dragging heavy gear around leads to lower calving rates, placing a heavy burden on a species with fewer than 70 reproductively active females. In U.S. commercial fisheries, entanglements kill or seriously injure an average of four right whales a year.  

Occurring in both U.S. and Canadian waters, entanglements have historically been difficult to trace to particular fisheries due to the lack of gear marking requirements and the challenges of retrieving gear off entangled whales. Maine has only required specially-marked gear in its American lobster and Jonah crab fishery since September 2020. 

Defenders and its allies have fought for years to reduce the threats to right whales from U.S. commercial fisheries, advocating for federal research investments into the development and use of innovative fishing gear technologies that keep vertical buoy lines out of the water column. This on-demand (also known as ropeless) gear shows great promise in enabling healthy fisheries and vulnerable whales to coexist.  

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

Media Contact

Communications Specialist
jpetrequin@defenders.org
(202) 772-0243

News

Image
Northern Long-eared Bat
Asheville, NC

Conservation Groups Sue Forest Service Over Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan

This week, a coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit over glaring flaws in the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan that put endangered forest bats at risk
Image
2001 - Polar Bears - Mom and Cubs - Steven Amstrup USGS.jpg
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA

Defenders of Wildlife Applauds New ‘Special Areas’ Rule

The Biden administration today announced regulations to safeguard “Special Areas” identified for exceptional wildlife and cultural values in Alaska’s Western Arctic. Defenders of Wildlife supports