MEDIA RELEASE

State Awards Funding for Research to Reduce Whale Entanglements

Massachusetts Energy and Environment Secretary Matt Beaton
MEE Secretary Matt Beaton announces funding for Anderson Cabot Center scientists.

Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Matthew Beaton today announced $180,000 for the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life to develop a modified rope for fishermen to reduce entangled endangered whales and other marine species. An additional $19,000 grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET) for the South Shore Lobster Fishermen’s Association to field test the rope developed by the New England Aquarium was also announced.

Reduced breaking strength rope could be a critical tool in reducing North Atlantic right whale mortality and preserving this majestic species.
- Governor Charlie Baker

“Reduced breaking strength rope could be a critical tool in reducing North Atlantic right whale mortality and preserving this majestic species,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “With this funding, our administration continues to act upon our commitment to protecting native species while also supporting Massachusetts’ vital commercial fishing industry.”

“With approximately 525 North Atlantic right whales remaining, entanglements with fishing rope are a problem that must be addressed,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “Through the work of the New England Aquarium and South Shore Lobster Fishermen’s Association, we will not only protect whales off the Massachusetts coast, but will also provide guidance to fishermen, managers and researchers all over the world who are grappling with this problem.”

Research by the New England Aquarium has shown a connection between the severity of whale entanglements and the breaking strength of ropes. With the $180,000 grant from EEA, the New England Aquarium will work to develop a reduced breaking strength rope that is workable for the fishing industry and could minimize the severity of whale entanglements. The rope will likely have a breaking strength of 1700 lbs or less, as well as colors that may be more visible to whales.

 

Massachusetts Secretary Matt Beaton inspects a rope
MEE Secretary Matt Beaton inspects a reduced breaking strength rope meant to reduce the severity of whale entanglements.

“We are proud to support our partners at the New England Aquarium and the South Shore Lobster Fishermen’s Association in their efforts to find an innovative solution to ensure the safety of large marine animals while allowing fishermen to safely fish the waters off of the coast of the Commonwealth,” said EEA Secretary Matthew Beaton.

With the $19,000 grant to the South Shore Lobstermen’s Association, working lobstermen will field test the rope prototypes developed by the New England Aquarium. The Association will work closely with researchers at the Aquarium and a line manufacturer to assess how the ropes handle in comparison to standard ropes.

For the past six years, MET has been providing funds to the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to support the Center for Coastal Studies’ at-sea work to free large whales and sea turtles from life-threatening entanglements. Bringing the total to $750,000, MET is providing $150,000 in fiscal year 2017.

a quick-release rope splice
A close-up of rope splice that can reduce breaking strength.

Entanglement in fishing gear is the leading cause of human induced mortality for large whales. North Atlantic right whales are the most endangered large whale in the North Atlantic, with a population of approximately 525 animals. Eighty-three percent of North Atlantic right whales bear evidence of entanglement.

“A recent study led by New England Aquarium researchers has shown that many of the ropes used in fishing have become too strong for whales to easily break when they become entangled,” said Nigella Hillgarth, President & CEO of the New England Aquarium. “Motivated by this finding, Aquarium scientists have teamed up with engineers, rope manufacturers and fishermen to develop and test a new generation or ropes that hold up the rigors of fishing but lead to fewer lethal whale entanglements. By working together on this challenging issue that impacts large whales throughout the world, we can lead the way in finding a solution that works for both whales and fishermen.”

 

Aquarium president with lobsterman on boat
Aquarium president Nigella Hillgarth joined lobsterman Mike Lane on board the Priscilla B. to see a demonstration of reduced breaking strength rope in action.

The Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium applies cutting-edge marine research, data-driven conservation solutions, and public engagement to ensure a future for the oceans in which resources are used sustainably, critical species and habitats are protected, and ecosystems are managed wisely.

The Massachusetts Environmental Trust’s whale conservation grants are funded by extra fees from whale license plates purchased at the RMV.