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Federal government takes steps to protect humpback whales on California coast

Humpback whale breaching on California coast.
NOAA Fisheries
Humpback whale breaching on California coast.

The federal government is taking steps to protect humpback whales from deadly entanglements off the California coast.

Representative's from the Center for Biological Diversity said fishing gear is injuring and killing the species.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, found since 2018, there has been a 400% increase in humpback whale mortality and serious injury.

Kristen Monsell, with the Center for Biological Diversity said the whales are getting entangled in trap pot gear.

Trap pot gear is three-dimensional fishing gear made of wire or wood to trap fish, crab, or other marine species.

“Often times the pods on the bottom of the sea floor are connected to each other through other lines so such that they can be very very long and very very heavy and when a humpback whale is is swimming along they can come into contact with the line that runs from the trap to the buoy on the surface,” Monsell said.

Monsell said when that happens, the humpback whales will typically thrash around to try and remove the fishing gear from themselves.

She said the line holding the trap pot gear can wrap so tightly around their flippers, they can become amputated or die of exhaustion from dragging the gear for hundreds of miles.

Now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NMFS are putting together a team of people to stop that from happening.

Monsell said the team would be made of different interest groups.

“It will include fishermen, it will include state and federal Regulators, it will include scientists. It will include members of the conservation community. And the team will then get together and brainstorm ideas that could help mitigate the entanglement risk for humpback whales and other whales.”

Under a legal agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, NMFS will form the team by Oct. 31, 2025.

Right now the federal government is asking for public comment on the issue until November 28th.

People can chime in at regulations.gov.

Gabriela Fernandez came to KCBX in May of 2022 as a general assignment reporter, and became news director in December of 2023. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an associate producer on the TahoeLand podcast. When she's not writing or editing news stories, she loves to travel, play tennis and take her 140-lbs dog, Atlas, on long walks by the coast.
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