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January 19, 2018

Whale entanglements prompt lawsuit against feds

The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and The Humane Society of the United States have filed suit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service to force the agency to impose stricter regulations on lobstermen fishing in federal waters.

The Ellsworth American reported the lawsuit comes in the wake of the 2017 deaths of at least 17 endangered North Atlantic right whales in Canadian waters and off New England. Some deaths were attributed to the whales' entanglement with lobster fishing gear.

According to a new NOAA study, right whales use nearly the entire Eastern Seaboard during the winter and they move around a lot more than was previously thought. How long they spend in some areas of their range has also changed in recent years. The study, using passive acoustic monitoring, is one of the first comprehensive, long-term passive acoustic studies to investigate an entire habitat range for a marine mammal.

"We now have baseline information on right whale distributions across their current range," Genevieve Davis, an acoustician at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center's Woods Hole Laboratory in Massachusetts, said in a news release. "It isn't clear what is causing the changes in right whale occupancy since 2010. It could be a response to human causes or to the changing environment, or both."

The information can be used to direct science and management to areas of interest, Davis said. "In an ocean where conditions are changing rapidly, adaptive management is needed to identify and protect areas that are crucial for this species," she said.

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