Session Topic

January 31- Whither the right whale?

Click here to read the themes raised by the panel discussion on January 31


Dan McKiernan- Massachusetts Dept. of Marine Fisheries
Sharon Young- Marine Mammal Advocate with Humane Society of the United States
Bruce Russell- Retired Coast Guard, Consultant on national and international shipping issues
Dave Casoni- Science Liaison, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association
Amy Knowlton- Right Whale Biologist, New England Aquarium & former Co-Chair of Northeast Implementation Team on Whale Ship Strike

Background lecture: Endangered Species Act & Marine Mammal Protection Act; branches of government, the regulatory process, and public participation—ideal versus reality

Summary: Sometimes whales collide with and become entangled in the ropes used in lobster and gillnet fishing gear. More than two-thirds of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales have scars from entanglement and many have died. In spite of a decade of federal management of the fisheries involved, whales continue to die from entanglement along the Atlantic coast, fishermen are angry about constantly changing regulations and threats of closures, and whale advocates are frustrated with ineffective rules. New rules due in the spring of 2006 are likely to fuel further animosity among the players. Fisheries that kill whales could be shut down by the courts if new whale rules don’t work to prevent whale entanglements. Right whales are also vulnerable to collisions with ships, but the federal government has yet to implement regulations to prevent ship strikes. On the Pacific, a judge recently ordered NMFS to take steps to establish critical habitat areas for the exceedingly rare Pacific right whale. Could this be the beginning of another decade-long firefight in the Pacific, or can such conflict be avoided in favor of real solutions? We’ll hear from fishermen, whale advocates, shipping industry representatives, regulators and scientists.

Reading (copies are available in the museum library):

Johnson, Tora. Chapters 3 and 4, pp. 43-80, and chapters 11 and 12, pp. 220-259 Entanglements: The Intertwined Fates of Whales and Fishermen. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005. You may not have time to read all this information before this session, but you should read at least Chapter 3 and 4 and try to read Chapters 11 and 12 as soon as possible. The information here will help you track themes in all subsequent topics.

Rubin, Herbert J. and Rubin, I.S. Chapter 1 in Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1995.

Additional resources:

Links on the Entanglements website:

“Giants in the Balance: The Race to Save the North Atlantic Right Whale” by Emily Dooley, Cape Cod Times Special Series,

Laist, David W., Knowlton, Amy R., Mead, James G., Collet, Anne S. and Podesta, Michela. “Collisions Between Ships and Whales.” Marine Mammal Science, January, 2001. 17(1):35–75

Teacher resources:

“Starting Point-Teaching Entry Level Geoscience: Role-Playing Exercises” by Rebecca Teed, SERC, Carleton College This site has a clear and helpful intro to role playing and some sample exercises. It is geared toward geoscience, it includes some environmental debate material.

“A Duck’s Bill on Capitol Hill?: “Taking a Stand on Wildlife Conservation Legislation.” New York Times Daily Lesson Plan, December 28, 2005 by Annissa Hambouz, The New York Times Learning Network, and Javaid Khan, The Bank Street College of Education in New York City

“No Place Like Home? Arguing for the Protection of Endangered Species.” (consider adapting this one to look at right whales, perhaps supported by readings in Entanglements or the Cape Cod Times series on the right whale) New York Times Daily Lesson Plan, May 11, 2005 by Jennifer Rittner, The New York Times Learning Network, and Javaid Khan, The Bank Street College of Education in New York City

“State of Affairs: Learning About the Organization and Roles in Your State Government.” New York Times Daily Lesson Plan, Monday, August 26, 2002 by Annissa Hambouz, The New York Times Learning Network, and Jessica Levine, The Bank Street College of Education in New York City

Themes from the January 31st session on Right Whales

At each session, we note themes arising in the panel discussion in four categories: problem definition, goals (individual, organizational and for the process itself), sources of conflict, and potential solutions. The list is meant to aid in further discussion on the topic and is not meant to be exhaustive or definitive. The themes are recorded by a volunteer from the enrolled students and auditors. Themes noted with an asterisk (*) were added to the list by Saving Seas instructor Tora Johnson drawing upon her notes on the discussion.


The Problem

Ship strikes on right whales
Right whale population is extremely fragile
Need to maintain healthy marine fisheries in New England
Long history of over-fishing on right whale
Changes in fishing technology more dangerous to whales
Lack of education in Mid-Atlantic states despite ship strikes
States have different "self-regulation" schemes


Protect right whales and other marine mammals
Avoid interacting with right whales at all cost
Reduce entanglement
Reporting of entanglement and *ship strike
Education and getting everyone on the "same page"
Seriously consider the economic implications

Sources of Conflict

Law says to meet, but meetings don't happen
Lack of understanding among different parties
Denial: "Not my/our problem"
Shipping community is not cohesive
Take reduction plan
Different conflict resolution styles
Commerce vs. sustainability

* Reluctance of fishermen in some areas to participate
* Tension between time to build consensus vs. tight legal time line and urgent need
* Consensus may not be possible


Keep working/ reworking the plan
Keep passionate about finding solutions
Work cooperatively
Good science leads to good policy that stands the test of time and courts
Dynamic management in sensitive areas
Trust among parties at the table

* NMFS looks for technical fixes

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