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, www.cetaceanbycatch.org,
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
"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
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.