To the Editor: Right whale population is not fine 



To the Editor: 

I’m replying to last week’s Letter to the Editor titled, “The whales are fine,” a dispatch to our community questioning right whale population numbers. The misinformation in this letter does a great disservice by pursuing explanations that are just not real. The letter writer stated that the population is 722 and doing “fine,” the greatest source of mortality is due to cruises ships – at the behest of the U.S. and Canadian governments, and that vertical fishing lines pose no risk. Nothing could be further from the truth.  

The many Ph.D. scientists who track the critically endangered right whale population and conduct the annual statistical analysis do so based on hundreds of annual aerial surveys from Canada to Florida, thousands of sightings, and tens of thousands of photographs. In fact, this is likely the most well studied population of whales in the world. Dozens of expert scientists working as a team estimate that there are less than 400 right whales. No one made a graph error and there are no missing whales. Since 1935, there have been 761 individual right whales identified and 180 of those have been found dead – 95 percent due to ships and entanglement since the year 2003. Cetacean scientists estimate that only 36 percent of the right whale mortalities are annually observed -– adrift or onshore.   

The population reached a high of 488 in 2010, but by 2015 had already dropped to 458 before one-third of the right whale population showed up in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The GOSL is a superhighway for ships going into the Great Lakes, and each month there are about 400 ship transits. There is no evidence that cruise ships, which number far fewer transits than other ships, are responsible for all eight known ship strikes in 2017 and 2019. In fact, most cruise ships travel through the GOSL in the fall and all the known right whale ship strike mortalities happened in June and July.  

Between 2003 and 2018, in 43 necropsies of dead right whales, 58 percent were due to entanglement. Scientists have documented 1,627 right whale entanglements in total of which 8 percent have been or lead to mortality. In only 1.5 percent have they been able to determine where the gear originated as only 7 percent of time is the fishing line even retrieved. Of those, at least two come from Maine lobster and possibly a third. It is not true to say “there are only two cases” from Maine when we do not know where 98.5 percent of the other events originated. Last year, for the first time, Maine fishermen implemented state specific, purple-colored gear marking.  

Importantly, at the end of the day, this isn’t win or lose proposition. Lobstering and the whales are both too important, so the solutions we find have to work and be win-win. Mainers can work together and find solutions so there can be co-existence. There will always be a lobster fishery and we have to save the whales so their population will be fine in the future.  

 

Zack Klyver 

Winter Harbor  

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