Rope, not the wind industry, killed the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale found dead last Monday, claim scientific organizations, the US government, and the news media. “This case highlights the ongoing threat right whales and other whale species have been facing from fishing gear entanglements for decades,” said Amy Knowlton of the New England Aquarium, which is working with the North Atlantic Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to identify the cause of death.
But neither Knowlton nor anyone else knows if the rope killed the three-year-old female whale, who is known only as “5120.” Whales can live long lives with a rope embedded in their bodies. Indeed, nearly 90 percent of right whales have been entangled in rope at least once, and others as often as nine times. This young whale was first observed to have rope around her tail in August 2022.
It’s true that, in the past, rope entanglements were the primary cause of death for North Atlantic right whales, and late today, NOAA reported that “The necropsy showed no evidence of blunt force trauma.”
But NOAA did not address whether high-decibel sonar, measured at illegal levels last year, played a role. Nor did NOAA establish a cause of death. “Cause of death is pending further histological and diagnostic testing of collected samples, which can take weeks to complete.
As such, it is inappropriate for the New England Aquarium, which is participating in NOAA’s investigation of the cause of the whale’s death, to suggest that rope entanglement killed the whale before NOAA has completed its investigation.
And this is particularly inappropriate since the threats to the whales have increased as boat traffic related to offshore wind development increased.