Using a "patient monitoring" device attached to a whale entangled in fishing gear, scientists showed for the first time how fishing lines changed a whale's diving and swimming behavior. The monitoring revealed how fishing gear hinders whales' ability to eat and migrate, depletes their energy as they drag gear for months or years, and can result in a slow death.
The scientists in this entanglement response suction-cupped a cellphone-size device called a Dtag to a two-year-old female North Atlantic right whale called Eg 3911. The Dtag, developed at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), recorded Eg 3911's movements before, during, and after at-sea disentanglement operations.
Immediately after Eg 3911 was disentangled from most of the fishing gear, she swam faster, dove twice as deep, and for longer periods. The study, by scientists at WHOI, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and NOAA Fisheries, was published online May 21 in the journal Marine Mammal Science.
"The Dtag opened up a whole new world of Eg 3911's life under water that otherwise we weren't able to see," said Julie van der Hoop, lead author of the study and a graduate student in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography.
North Atlantic right whales were nearly eradicated by whaling and remain endangered today, with a population of 450 to 500. About 75 percent bear scars of fishing lines that cut into their flesh.
Born in 2009, Eg 3911 was first sighted entangled and emaciated by an aerial survey team on Christmas Day 2010, near Jacksonville, Florida. Fishing gear was entangled around her mouth, wrapped around both pectoral fins, and trailed about 100 feet behind her tail.
Teams aboard boats attempted to cut away the fishing gear on Dec. 29 and 30, 2010, but were not successful because the whale was evasive. A multiagency team tried again on Jan. 15, 2011. First, they appl
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution