Modeling Whale Entanglement Risk

Hauke Kite-Powell, Marine Policy Center


Collaborators (with separate funding):

  • Scott Kraus and Brooke Wikgren, New England Aquarium
  • Chris Brehme, Keene State College
  • Patrice McCarron and Heather Tetreault, Maine Lobstermen’s Association

The primary question addressed by this project is: what is the spatial and temporal distribution of entanglement risk for Right Whales and lobster fishing gear in the waters off New England?  Understanding the distribution of risk in time (season) and space is important to designing sensible measures to reduce this risk – for example, moving fishing effort around during critical times of the year, or changing the rules on fishing gear configuration.

We learned in the course of doing this work that the risk to Right Whales from lobster fishing gear is heavily concentrated in a few geographic regions, primarily along the coast of Maine, and a few months of the year.  This knowledge is important because it allows lobstermen and resource managers, in principle, to work together to reduce risk to Right Whales significantly without causing major dislocation and costs to the fishermen.

Protecting Right Whales from entanglement in fishing gear is important because the whales are critically endangered, with a total population estimated between 400 and 500, and because entanglement in fishing gear is (along with ship strikes) a leading cause of injury and death for Right Whales.

One of the major challenges in this work was to create accurate maps of lobster fishing activity, and Right Whale activity.  By working with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, we were able to generate a fishing activity dataset that is more detailed than any previously assembled.  And by developing techniques to integrate Right Whale survey data with opportunistic sighting information, we also generated a more complete representation of Right Whale activity in New England waters than previous model had done.

The work was carried out from 2009 to 2011, and the funding provided by MMC was leveraged to obtain support from Sea Grant and other sources.  The next steps in this work are to refine and extend the model to other geographic regions, fisheries, and species of concern, and to develop a technique for estimating the consequences (injury, mortality) of entanglements.



Kite-Powell, H.L., C. Brehme, S. Kraus, P. McCarron, H. Tetrault, and B. Wikgren. In prep.  The spatial and temporal distribution of risk to Right Whales from lobster fishing gear off the coast of Maine.

Wikgren, B., H.L. Kite-Powell, and S. Kraus. In press 2014. Modeling the distribution of the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) off coastal Maine by applying areal co-kriging to systematic survey data, opportunistic sightings, and satellite tag data. Endangered Species Research .