Ten animal species worldwide are identified as critically endangered, and one of them lives, breeds, and feeds in our Maine waters. Yet no one seems to know about the North Atlantic right whale.

There are only 360 left, with each one so rare that it is named, coded, catalogued and monitored on Atlantic seas. Whales are mammals: the mothers suckle calves. All things being equal, they live as long as we do. But not anymore.

The right whales are in dire straits because they move slowly near fast vessels and get struck, and because they swim among a forest of underwater vertical lines that tie crab and lobster traps together.

These vertical lines, half a million of them,  represent mortal danger to whales and marine life. Once entangled a whale drags lines weighing as much as a pick-up truck eventually wearing it down, suffocating or starving. This is animal abuse and torture by anyone’s reckoning.

Some 83% of right whales bear scars from entanglements; 100 whales a year. This is why the species is going extinct. Female right whales are fewer than males (85). They cannot reproduce fast enough to replace those killed by entanglement. What is to be done?

The U.S. government drags it feet regarding protections for the whales with “rope less” fishing technology, which is not cheap. Canada temporarily bans trap fishing when right whales are spotted to give the species a chance at survival, as does Massachusetts. But not Maine.

What price extinction versus commerce, when our lobster industry is so important, iconic and vocal and resists modernization without financial incentives? The answer is massive investment in “rope less” fishing. This requires political will.

If nothing is done soon the right whales will go the way of the passenger pigeon and we will have to live with that forever.


Barbara Skapa

member, Maine Friends of Animals

Mount Vernon

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