Type: Critical Essays
Sample donated: Antonia Bush
Last updated: January 19, 2020
what could bedone to prevent this from reoccurring next summer as the whales migrate backinto the populated areas of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
“I heard about that, Idon’t understand why they would want to be in such a busy area,” oneparticipant said. After two months studying the carcasses of seven right whalesfound dead off Canada’s Atlantic coast this past summer, scientists haverevealed what killed six of the endangered animals. The findings were predictable:internal bleeding suggested that four of the necropsied whales had died fromblunt-force trauma, undoubtedly from collisions with ships. Two others had diedfrom entanglement in snow crab fishing gear, though nearly all the carcasseshad scars consistent with entanglement. In fact, 83 percent of right whales areentangled in fishing gear at some point in their lives (Chapman, 2017).
Nearly all thewhales examined had died as a result of human activity. Andrew Reid of NovaScotia’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, aNew Brunswick fisherman died disentangling one of them (Fraser, 2017), whichbrought attention to the problem, but seemed overpowered by the loss of a humanlife. DiscussionThe NorthAtlantic right whale has a proclivity for feeding and moving about in areasthat are busy with human activity—they migrate up and down the east coast ofCanada and the United States, an area muddled with container ships and fishinggear (Firestone et al, 2008). This makes whale (and other marine mammals whoare also subjected to anthropogenic causes of harm) an important human directedissue. 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 TransportCanada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) authorized temporary measures thatwere put into place this summer, which included mandatory speed reductions forships in critical areas. Further, as the snow crab fisheries closed early thissummer, there was a concerted effort to recover gear and nets that had beenlost or left behind. Regardless, 12 right whales and countless other marinemammals lost their lives off the coats of Nova Scotia and the Maritimes thisyear alone, and this is significant, because the right whale population isdwindling in Canada and the U.
S. In 2016, the population was estimated to beabout 525 animals (Government of Canada, Fisheries and Oceans StatisticalServices, 2017). How does this effect the community and residents ofNova Scotia? According to Chapman of coastal science and society’s magazine,Hakai:The Gulf of St. Lawrence is Canada’s major shipping corridor andapproximately… $7-billion in direct Canadian trade flowed through the region inthe last year. Moreover, the southern Gulf alone accounts for 15 percent of thetotal catch value of Canadian fisheries (Chapman, 2017). The 2016proposed action plan for the North Atlantic right whale (DFO, 2017), which aimsto reduce injury and mortality from entanglement in fishing lines and netting hasyet to be presented to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the CanadianCoast Guard (Chapman, 2017). The participants in the current study expressedconcern for the whales, but also concern for the industry, and the implicationsthat changes may bring.
“If we have shortened crab fishing seasons, I won’tbe able to make quota”. Anotherparticipant 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 inarms!” If the DFO is hesitant, this bleeds down through the chain of commandand ultimately endorses the importance of economy over the value of marinelife.MARS is the only active rescuegroup in the maritime provinces. When talking with MARS founder Andrew Reid, hetold me that most of what they do is dealing with animals in distress or thosewho have already passed. The Ecology Action Centre (EAC) is the onlyocean-driven activist group in Nova Scotia, but has nothing dedicated to marinemammal advocacy specifically.
MARS has done some fantastic work performingnecropsies on the deceased right whales over the past few months, and has beenworking tirelessly to make the public, but also the government, aware of theissues that these whales face. Many freighters ply the Gulf, heading to and fromthe Great Lakes. However, there is not yet a strong whale-avoidance systems inplace other than the temporary speed reductions put in place during the summer.Researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia are testing arelatively low-cost approach: underwater gliders equipped with sound sensorsand gear able to transmit alerts to ships via satellites and shore stations(Vanderlann, 2007). The project has been underway for several years, but thissummer’s death toll “has created a greater sense of urgency,” andthey hope to have a system operational by next year in the Atlantic (Stokstad,2017).How do we change the attitudestowards marine mammal protection in an ocean-driven industry such as NovaScotia? Is it education? Policy? How will policy take shape if it means losingrevenue? Nova Scotia is not a rich province, and is densely populated, and theeconomic impact is what seems to worry a lot of people.
And from theparticipant pool, we see that people do not necessarily seem to empathize enoughwith marine mammals to change their lifestyle, and some are concerned about theimplications change might have on the growing ocean related industry that somany residents rely on. Perhaps taking a different approach—an anthropocentricapproach—could affect change in this specific community, or even wheninitiating change among people employed in particular occupations. Savingmarine mammals doesn’t seem relevant to many people surveyed, and is actuallyviewed as counter-productive by some. And because it threatens jobs with richfamily histories, it is simply too risky for many fishermen to want toimplement change.
There is no denying that there is a subset of people who feelstrongly about marine mammal protection, however, targeting those who do notfall into this classification could increase the amount of altruism towards themovement with a more relatable message of how economy and human survival dependon the survival of these flagship marine mammals.Those who are involved incertain ocean related industries (n=7), such as fishing and off-shore oil andgas, 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 repliedthat they felt: I do not agree with many of thequestions and feel a different approach would be much more beneficial to thesurvey. It only considers one approach to saving marine mammals and it is notmutually beneficial to the fishing industry.
There are clearly other options thatwould be more effective to supporting both these things. Interesting because I simplyasked the question of how one feels about marine mammal conservation withoutany connotation as to the impact of the fishing or shipping industry. Itappears that certain target groups (such as the fishing industry, for example) havea tendency to get defensive quite easily when it comes to such a sensitivetopic, particularly when they feel like activist groups are against them andnot 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.ConclusionAll life is the ocean, and allliving things on this planet rely on it for sustainability.
The ocean covers140 million square miles, which is approximately 72% of the earth’s surface (Oceansand the law of the sea, n.d.). Climate and weather, even the quality of the airpeople 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 alsoserved a long history for trade and commerce, and continental discovery. “Evennow, when the continents have been mapped and their interiors made accessibleby road, river and air, most of the world’s people live no more than 200 milesfrom the sea and relate closely to it” (Oceans and the law of the sea, n.d.
). Theocean, with its air of mystery, has given life to custom, tradition and lawarose defining the rights of the ships and mariners, and the humans that usethe ocean for capital gain. Moreover, marine species provide importantecosystem services such as the provision of food, medicines, and livelihoods.
They also support tourism and recreational activities here in Nova Scotia andelsewhere.