Posted by: tireecottage | August 8, 2010

Minke Whales entangled

Article published in the Scotsman this week: MINKE whales in Scotland are suffering agonising deaths after getting tangled up in fishing ropes, a new report has warned.

More than half of all of the dead creatures discovered stranded on the Scottish coast over the past two decades have been killed after getting entangled in fishing gear. The ropes cut into the mouths and heads of the whales, causing them to suffer slow and painful deaths over a matter of weeks, according to the report for the Scottish Government by the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and the Scottish Agricultural College.

Minkes are the most common whale in the waters around Scotland, and a strong tourist attraction, particularly in the seas off west coast islands such as Mull and Tiree. They are the second smallest type of baleen whale — toothless species that filter food such as krill. However, ropes used by creel fishermen, who catch species like crabs and lobsters, get caught in their enormous jaws. The scientists found this represented the single most frequently documented cause of death of the animals in Scottish waters.

“Roughly half of all examined dead baleen whales from Scotland are thought to have died due to entanglement,” said the report. “Although this amounts to only about five or six animals per year on average, not all such deaths will result in cases that are reported.

“Among animals photographed off Mull, at least 5 per cent and possibly as many as 22 per cent of minke whales bear some evidence of previous entanglement.” In Scotland, of the 30 baleen whales subjected to post mortem examination since 1990, 16 died as a result of entanglement. Dr Andrew Brownlow, a vet who runs the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme at the Scottish Agricultural College in Inverness, told The Scotsman it was a “severe problem”. “The lesions are horrendous and lead to what must be a very painful, slow and agonising death. It’s a fairly typical case of humans and marine life trying to occupy the same niche.

“Ropes and fishing gear used to hold creel pots or buoys become entangled and attached to their mouths a bit like a bit in a horse.  “There’s evidence to suggest they then pull it along a bit like an anchor with whatever is on the end and it gradually digs in to their flesh.”

He said minke whales were particularly affected because as filter feeders they swim close to the surface, near floating fishing gear.


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