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JULY 23, 2002
11:06 AM
CONTACT:  World Wildlife Fund
Jan Vertefeuille, 202-861-8362 or
Martha Wilson, 202-778-9517
World's Leading Scientists Form Global Network to Tackle Biggest Threat to Whales, Dolphins -- Entanglement in Fishing Gear
BOSTON - July 23 - As the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy opened its New England regional meeting today, 25 of the world's leading whale and dolphin scientists joined World Wildlife Fund in urging governments, conservation organizations and fishermen to work together to address the leading threat to dolphins and whales -- entanglement in fishing gear.

New research released at a press conference at the New England Aquarium today finds that nearly 60,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises (classified scientifically as cetaceans) are killed each year worldwide by entanglement. That compares with an average killing of 21,000 whales a year by whalers during the 20th century, a practice that caused severe declines in nearly all large whale species.

The scientists also agreed to form a global rapid response team, the Cetacean Bycatch Action Network, that will provide expert assistance to regions where species are in crisis. Working on the ground, they will join with fishermen, governments and other stakeholders to find solutions that work for individual fisheries.

Their call to action, released at the press conference, says in part: "Incidental capture in fishing operations is the major threat to whales, dolphins and porpoises worldwide. Several species and many populations will be lost in the next few decades if nothing is done. Urgent national and international action is needed."

"This is the first coordinated effort by the world's experts to tackle the global problem of death from entanglement, the number one killer of whales and dolphins," said William Reilly, EPA administrator in the first Bush administration and chairman of the board of WWF. "Because of the urgent need for action, World Wildlife Fund has now made this one of its priorities for our marine conservation work."

Unintentional deaths of whales and dolphins in fishing gear, known as bycatch, has pushed some cetacean species to the brink of extinction. In Mexico's Gulf of California, for example, up to 15 percent of the critically endangered vaquita population is killed every year in fishing nets. With a population of only around 500, the small porpoise -- found nowhere else on Earth -- is being decimated by bycatch.

"The numbers are staggering: my research estimates that at least 150 whales and dolphins die each day after being accidentally caught in commercial fisheries," said Dr. Andy Read of the Duke University Marine Laboratory and co-chair of the new Cetacean Bycatch Action Network, who today released new figures for global bycatch. "There are effective solutions being used by some fishermen around the world, but more action is needed to apply those lessons learned to other fisheries."

"My experience working with fishermen to reduce harbor porpoise bycatch in New England is a good illustration of the challenges and opportunities the network will face," said Scott Kraus, director of research at the New England Aquarium and a member of the network. "Generally, fishermen want to avoid bycatch for economic reasons, so reducing bycatch is a win-win situation for fishermen and cetaceans. But one-size-fits-all solutions will not work and our network is committed to working toward solutions for individual fisheries."

The global response network will provide scientific expertise to regions of the world where cetaceans are in crisis to help reduce bycatch. It will also play an advisory role to fisheries and governments, provide training and promote research and outreach. A website launched today,, will serve as a virtual resource center for scientists to collaborate and share their expertise with each other and with governments and fishermen that request assistance.

"In releasing this call to action, we are urging governments worldwide to address this issue as part of their fisheries management," said Andy Rosenberg, co-chair of the Cetacean Bycatch Action Network and dean of the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture at the University of New Hampshire. "The United States has made some progress in mitigating bycatch, but we need to show more leadership by helping solve this problem worldwide and continuing to improve our own track record."

Whales and dolphins can become entangled in commonly used fishing gear like gillnets, tangle nets, trammel nets, trawl nets and long lines. Solutions to the problem of entanglement vary by region and species involved, but can include adding gillnet floats that break away when hit by a whale, acoustic "pingers" that warn marine mammals away from nets and buoy lines that are less likely to snare whales and dolphins. Fishermen have been crucial in developing these successful gear modifications, the scientists noted.

WWF has made reducing cetacean bycatch a priority of its Ocean Rescue initiative, acting as the global leader in safeguarding marine ecosystems and working to end destructive fishing practices, stop illegal trade in marine wildlife and reduce pollution on land and sea. WWF's Ocean Rescue also promotes innovative market incentives for responsible fishing and works to reform government policies that undermine the ocean's web of life.

Note to Editors: Copies of the call to action by the world's leading cetacean scientists and additional background can be found at


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