The Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast and probably every other organization that submitted comments to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) opposing seismic testing for oil in the Atlantic talked about the need to protect the endangered right whale from the airgun blasting.
As the story below indicates, this is not an idle concern. Permitting seismic airgun blasting to explore for oil in the Atlantic will push this species of whale into extinction.
There is no minimal amounts of “takes” (a non-alarming word that means the killing, injuring or harassing of a marine mammal) that can be considered acceptable by the NMFS if it really is following the law to minimize the harmful consequences of seismic airgun blasting on marine mammals. Only a callous political decision can be the explanation for the NMFS to greenlight applications from five companies to do seismic testing in the Atlantic.
If that happens, expect the lawsuits to start flying.
Frank Knapp Jr.
Cape Cod Times
August 17, 2017
Another right whale found dead
By Doug Fraser
There doesn’t seem to be an end to the bad news on right whales this summer. With a dozen found dead this year, most of them in a flurry of deaths since June, the Coast Guard reported right whale death number 13 Monday, 145 miles east of Cape Cod.
On Thursday, the whale was identified by matching the pattern of hardened patches of gray skin with photos found in a database at the New England Aquarium. The right whale Couplet was a frequent visitor to the Cape, arriving here first as a yearling in 1992, and seen in Cape Cod Bay mostly in April to feed on abundant plankton blooms for 15 of the 26 years of her life. The last time she was sighted here was in 2015, and she brought her last of her five calves to Cape Cod in 2014.
“We study this unique animal and it is hard not to get attached to it,” said Amy James, aerial survey coordinator for the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown. “You get used to seeing the same ones come back year after year.”
The loss of females is especially tragic, James said.
The Northwest Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered whale populations on earth with around 500 individuals and less than 100 breeding females.
“All of her future calves, the ones she could have gone on to create, that opportunity has been lost,” James said.
Scientists estimate that for these whales to recover less than one whale per year can die from human-related causes. Since June at least 10, maybe as many as a dozen, have died in Canadian waters.
Both Canadian and U.S. researchers are investigating the causes, but at least some seem to be showing signs they were either hit by a ship or entangled in fishing line and gear.
The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that 83 percent of the right whale population shows scarring from a prior or existing entanglement. While U.S. fisheries have taken steps to make their lobster gear and gill nets and other fishing methods less harmful to whales, and to close large areas like Cape Cod Bay when they are present, Canadians are just in the beginning phases of drawing up a plan.
In response to the recent right whale mortalities, the Canadians shut down some fishing areas, ordered ships to slow down, and initiated increased surveillance, including aerial surveys.
Cape Cod saw two right whale deaths this year, a juvenile in April, which was hit by a ship and found drifting off Barnstable, and another earlier this month that floated into Great Pond in Edgartown. No cause of death has been identified for the Martha’s Vineyard whale or for Couplet.
“The situation we have with right whales is disastrous,” said Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of the Right Whale Ecology Program at the Center for Coastal Studies. He worries that there may be more right whales dead out there that haven’t been found.
“We generally felt that two or three carcasses found in a year is a disaster,” Mayo said. “With only five calves born (this year), the arithmetic is very bad.”
Mayo would like to see the surveillance flights expanded to cover the entrance routes to Cape Cod Bay and see if they might be able to find and disentangle more whales. He would also like to see more research money put into studying the food source, the copepods, that attract the right whales to Cape Cod Bay.
Last year 200 individuals were seen in Cape Cod Bay in one day by an aerial survey team, which is nearly half the population. Mayo worries that something catastrophic could happen while they are here.
“We don’t have a good handle on the biological toxins, the effects of noise in the water or a good read on the chemistry of the animal’s food,” he said. “It would be better to know what 200 individuals are eating.”