what six of the endangered animals. The findings

what could be
done to prevent this from reoccurring next summer as the whales migrate back
into the populated areas of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. “I heard about that, I
don’t understand why they would want to be in such a busy area,” one
participant said. After two months studying the carcasses of seven right whales
found dead off Canada’s Atlantic coast this past summer, scientists have
revealed what killed six of the endangered animals. The findings were predictable:
internal bleeding suggested that four of the necropsied whales had died from
blunt-force trauma, undoubtedly from collisions with ships. Two others had died
from entanglement in snow crab fishing gear, though nearly all the carcasses
had scars consistent with entanglement. In fact, 83 percent of right whales are
entangled in fishing gear at some point in their lives (Chapman, 2017).

Nearly all the
whales examined had died as a result of human activity. Andrew Reid of Nova
Scotia’s Marine Animal Response Society (MARS), through personal correspondence,
stated that, “It is not new information.” Aside from the whales that died,
another five live whales were entangled in fishing gear in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence this summer (Reid, personal communication, October 2017). In July, a
New Brunswick fisherman died disentangling one of them (Fraser, 2017), which
brought attention to the problem, but seemed overpowered by the loss of a human
life.

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Discussion

The North
Atlantic right whale has a proclivity for feeding and moving about in areas
that are busy with human activity—they migrate up and down the east coast of
Canada and the United States, an area muddled with container ships and fishing
gear (Firestone et al, 2008). This makes whale (and other marine mammals who
are also subjected to anthropogenic causes of harm) an important human directed
issue. According to Chapman (2017), fishing and shipping in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence have not been revised to accommodate for the presence of right whales,
and this is a heavily utilized area of the Atlantic. However, a report by Transport
Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) authorized temporary measures that
were put into place this summer, which included mandatory speed reductions for
ships in critical areas. Further, as the snow crab fisheries closed early this
summer, there was a concerted effort to recover gear and nets that had been
lost or left behind. Regardless, 12 right whales and countless other marine
mammals lost their lives off the coats of Nova Scotia and the Maritimes this
year alone, and this is significant, because the right whale population is
dwindling in Canada and the U.S. In 2016, the population was estimated to be
about 525 animals (Government of Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Statistical
Services, 2017). How does this effect the community and residents of
Nova Scotia? According to Chapman of coastal science and society’s magazine,
Hakai:

The Gulf of St. Lawrence is Canada’s major shipping corridor and
approximately… $7-billion in direct Canadian trade flowed through the region in
the last year. Moreover, the southern Gulf alone accounts for 15 percent of the
total catch value of Canadian fisheries (Chapman, 2017).

The 2016
proposed action plan for the North Atlantic right whale (DFO, 2017), which aims
to reduce injury and mortality from entanglement in fishing lines and netting has
yet to be presented to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian
Coast Guard (Chapman, 2017). The participants in the current study expressed
concern for the whales, but also concern for the industry, and the implications
that changes may bring. “If we have shortened crab fishing seasons, I won’t
be able to make quota”. Another
participant said “I don’t see how they could ever change the shipping patterns,
the schedule and demand is already high. I think a lot of people will be up in
arms!” If the DFO is hesitant, this bleeds down through the chain of command
and ultimately endorses the importance of economy over the value of marine
life.

MARS is the only active rescue
group in the maritime provinces. When talking with MARS founder Andrew Reid, he
told me that most of what they do is dealing with animals in distress or those
who have already passed. The Ecology Action Centre (EAC) is the only
ocean-driven activist group in Nova Scotia, but has nothing dedicated to marine
mammal advocacy specifically. MARS has done some fantastic work performing
necropsies on the deceased right whales over the past few months, and has been
working tirelessly to make the public, but also the government, aware of the
issues that these whales face. Many freighters ply the Gulf, heading to and from
the Great Lakes. However, there is not yet a strong whale-avoidance systems in
place other than the temporary speed reductions put in place during the summer.
Researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia are testing a
relatively low-cost approach: underwater gliders equipped with sound sensors
and gear able to transmit alerts to ships via satellites and shore stations
(Vanderlann, 2007). The project has been underway for several years, but this
summer’s death toll “has created a greater sense of urgency,” and
they hope to have a system operational by next year in the Atlantic (Stokstad,
2017).

How do we change the attitudes
towards marine mammal protection in an ocean-driven industry such as Nova
Scotia? Is it education? Policy? How will policy take shape if it means losing
revenue? Nova Scotia is not a rich province, and is densely populated, and the
economic impact is what seems to worry a lot of people. And from the
participant pool, we see that people do not necessarily seem to empathize enough
with marine mammals to change their lifestyle, and some are concerned about the
implications change might have on the growing ocean related industry that so
many residents rely on. Perhaps taking a different approach—an anthropocentric
approach—could affect change in this specific community, or even when
initiating change among people employed in particular occupations. Saving
marine mammals doesn’t seem relevant to many people surveyed, and is actually
viewed as counter-productive by some. And because it threatens jobs with rich
family histories, it is simply too risky for many fishermen to want to
implement change. There is no denying that there is a subset of people who feel
strongly about marine mammal protection, however, targeting those who do not
fall into this classification could increase the amount of altruism towards the
movement with a more relatable message of how economy and human survival depend
on the survival of these flagship marine mammals.

Those who are involved in
certain ocean related industries (n=7), such as fishing and off-shore oil and
gas, among others, were more inclined to be concerned with an economic decline,
and “not be concerned with the welfare of whales and seals.” One respondent replied
that they felt:

I do not agree with many of the
questions and feel a different approach would be much more beneficial to the
survey. It only considers one approach to saving marine mammals and it is not
mutually beneficial to the fishing industry. There are clearly other options that
would be more effective to supporting both these things.

Interesting because I simply
asked the question of how one feels about marine mammal conservation without
any connotation as to the impact of the fishing or shipping industry. It
appears that certain target groups (such as the fishing industry, for example) have
a tendency to get defensive quite easily when it comes to such a sensitive
topic, particularly when they feel like activist groups are against them and
not looking to understand their perspective. This is important to appreciate,
because it shows how social change is affected by relevance on a personal,
social and economic level.

Conclusion

All life is the ocean, and all
living things on this planet rely on it for sustainability. The ocean covers
140 million square miles, which is approximately 72% of the earth’s surface (Oceans
and the law of the sea, n.d.). Climate and weather, even the quality of the air
people breathe, depends on the ocean for storage of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
The ocean has always been a prime source for many resources, however, it has also
served a long history for trade and commerce, and continental discovery. “Even
now, when the continents have been mapped and their interiors made accessible
by road, river and air, most of the world’s people live no more than 200 miles
from the sea and relate closely to it” (Oceans and the law of the sea, n.d.). The
ocean, with its air of mystery, has given life to custom, tradition and law
arose defining the rights of the ships and mariners, and the humans that use
the ocean for capital gain. Moreover, marine species provide important
ecosystem services such as the provision of food, medicines, and livelihoods.
They also support tourism and recreational activities here in Nova Scotia and
elsewhere. 

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