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With less than 400 specimens known to exist today, the North Atlantic right whales rank high on the list of the world's most endangered animals. While most of the population decline can be attributed to relentless hunting that continued well into the 20th century, the few mammals left, are now fighting a new enemy - Lobster fishing nets!
The giant whales not only get entangled in the nets, but also, in the ropes that are used to attach the traps to the fishing buoy. Now a researcher is proposing an easy fix - changing the color of the ropes.
This simplistic sounding solution was suggested to the attendees of the annual Maine Fishermen's Forum on February 27th, by Scott Kraus, the leading researcher of a recent study conducted by a team of scientists to find a solution to protect the whales against this unavoidable hazard.
Kraus and his team based their experiment on the premise that while whales cannot see colors quite like humans, they are able to distinguish between them, based off their different wavelengths. In fact, that is how they seek out the orange zooplankton that they feed on.
So three years ago, the researchers set out to investigate if the mammals reacted better to some colors than others. They began by placing PVC pipes of various colors to represent the ropes that attach the traps to fishing buoys, in the Cape Cod Bay off the shore of Massachusetts, where the whales were feeding. What they discovered was that while the whales were oblivious to the green and black pipes, most made an effort to avoid the red and orange ones. This led the researchers to theorize that the same could happen if the fishermen used similarly colored ropes.
Kraus is now working with manufacturers to create experimental red ropes. Once ready, they will be tested by the lobster fishermen in Maine. While nobody knows if changing rope colors will work, given that 80% of the North Atlantic right whales exhibit scars left behind by encounters with fishing nets, it sure is worth a try.
North Atlantic right whales that can measure up to 50-feet tall and weigh almost 70-tons, are amongst the largest and now unfortunately also, rarest of marine species. Named 'right' as in the 'right one' to kill, they were highly coveted by whalers for their oil, as well as, baleen, the strong flexible material in the mammal's toothless mouth that helps filter out its prey. When not hindered by human activity, the whales can live anywhere from 50-100 years, in the wild.
Resources: dailymail.co.uk., popsci.com, national geographic.com