Across the globe entanglements with nets are responsible for hundreds of thousands of marine species deaths each year. Species at greatest risk include sea turtles, whales and seabirds. The resulting deaths are pushing some species even closer to extinction as many of them are already endangered. Environmental groups have long been attempting to regulate fishing nets which can stretch for miles and miles and take anything in their path when companies are only seeking one or two specific species of fish.
In addition to net entanglements are ship strikes, which are another major concern especially for larger species. Ship strikes are especially detrimental to whales, manatees and dolphins. Ship strikes are thought to be contributing to already depleted whale population declines globally, including in U.S. waters. Due to the aforementioned net entanglements and ship strikes, a project out of Oregon State University called WhaleWatch seeks to combine data from various sources to key in on times and locations where human and whale interactions may become lethal for whales.
Oregon State University researchers have tagged over 300 whales in order to track their movements. The data should provide between a month and a year or data for the individuals tagged depending upon how well the tags stay on the individuals. The tags will be able to ascertain data such as how often a whale dives to their exact migration routes and prime feeding regions. Currently the data set only includes North Pacific whales.
The data acquired will enable researchers to then combine it with satellite data of known activity of ships and fishing nets. The hope is that the combined data will highlight the regions where policymakers can make changes in order to reduce entanglements and ship strikes for whales. This may be especially beneficial for species already suffering from low numbers along the U.S. West Coast.
One of the researchers, Bruce Mate, discussed the project: “We know, for example, that the West Santa Barbara Channel off California is a place where blue whales feed and it is right in the middle of shipping lanes to the Los Angeles harbor. Identifying the seasonal trends, as well as the geographical movement, may help policymakers find ways to better protect the whales.”