Whale threats from fishing gear ‘underestimated’

The risk that whales can get entangled in fishing nets appears to have been underestimated, according to a new study.

As many as 60% of blue whales in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence – an important summer feeding ground for whales – have come into contact with fishing ropes and nets, based on scarring seen on photographs snapped by drones.

Entanglement rates were similar in another ocean giant, the fin whale.

Whales can suffocate or starve after getting tied up in fishing gear. An estimated 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises a year die after being injured in nets or lines designed to target other species.

Reports of very large whales getting trapped in fishing gear are rare compared with smaller species, leading to the assumption that they aren’t as much at risk. But a new study, led by experts at the University of St Andrews in Fife casts doubt on this idea. The research is published in the journal Endangered Species Research.

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