Conservation Efforts - New Bedford Whaling Museum

Conservation Efforts

Who is in charge of regulation, enforcement, and data management?


Conservation Efforts

Management / Partnerships / Regulators
Who is in charge of regulation, enforcement, and data management?

There are a large number of user groups that have an interest in how the ocean and coastlines are used and protected. Each brings its own expertise, point of view, and set of goals.

Managing these interests while regulating resource usage, and enforcing the laws, is a challenge. Creating the laws requires an intimate knowledge of the resource, of the fisheries, and of the methods of collecting data. Quite often it takes several long meetings to hear all of the opinions and to sort through the information before policy is set. Ultimately, state or federal government agencies will oversee these regulations and enforce penalties if necessary.



The New Bedford Whaling Museum is an active partner in these boater education programs. This builds on our work as part of the leadership of the Education Committee of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium.

Whale SENSE is a voluntary education and recognition program offered to commercial whale watching companies in the U.S. Atlantic and Alaska Regions. Developed in collaboration with the whale watching industry, Whale SENSE recognizes whale watching companies committed to responsible practices.

See A Spout to prepare boaters and sailors in the Greater Atlantic (Maine through Virginia) to safely navigate through waters shared with protected marine species, especially large whales, for the safety and wellbeing of both boaters and marine species.

Collaborative Data Collection to Drive Policy

NARWC logo

Because many of these animals travel great distances, and researchers may be working along different locations on the migratory pathways, the sharing of information is both helpful and necessary. An example of such a collaboration is the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. This group meets on an annual basis to share what they’ve learned about this endangered species and to promote well-informed conservation and management decisions for the protection of the remaining animals.

Shipping Management

map showing whales traffic

Click on map to enlarge. Image courtesy of NOAA/Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy in Canada, in Boston Harbor, and San Francisco Bay have been shifted to cut down on the possibility of large cargo ships hitting whales in these busy areas. These small changes to the path taken by ships have reduced the number of ship strikes. Years of carefully recorded data was used as the basis to make these changes.

Auto-detection Buoys

NARW listening network

Submerged listening devices have been installed in several locations, including Boston Harbor, to listen for calls from specific types of whales. These systems sort whale sounds from non-whale sounds, which enables managers and researchers to send notices to mariners about the presence of these animals. Visit to learn about their right whale detection system.

Thermal Imaging / Thermographic Videography

Specialized cameras and video cameras that photograph and videotape images based on temperature differences in the field of vision are being used to record cetacean activity at night, when it is much more difficult for observers to see activity with their own eyes. These cameras make it much easier to see flukes, flippers, body outlines and the spray when a cetacean exhales. This information gets shared with mariners to help them avoid these animals.

Seasonal Management Areas

map seasonal management areas for north atlantic

Endangered North Atlantic right whales have fairly predictable migration patterns, and with proper planning can be avoided when they are migrating. Since 2008, mandatory speed restriction zones that mimic the whale’s migration along the Atlantic Coast during the year, for vessels longer than 65 feet (19.8 meters), have cut down on the number of collisions.

Dynamic Management Areas

map of dynamic management areas

Image courtesy of NOAA/Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Voluntary speed restriction zones for vessels longer than 65 feet (19.8 meters) are posted periodically during the year, by National Marine Fisheries Service, for areas outside the seasonal management areas. This occurs when whales show up unexpectedly in these locations.

Entanglement Mitigation

Removing entangled gear from whales is dangerous work. It involves sharp tools, unpredictable ocean conditions, and stressed out whales that don’t always welcome the rescue boat. Anyone who does this work has gone through hours of training and has to wear safety gear. Disentanglement efforts sometimes take hours to complete and are not always successful. The best solution is to reduce or eliminate the conditions that lead to entanglement. This requires action and changes in several areas.

disentangling a whale

The best solution is to reduce or eliminate the conditions that lead to entanglement. This requires action and changes in several areas: 

Seasonal closures for trap/pot fisheries have been set up in select areas along the New England coast to try to avoid migrating and feeding whales. Canada has done the same. Once migrating whales have moved on, the closed areas can be opened to fishing.

Sinking Lines
In Massachusetts waters the law mandates that the lines between lobster pots and similar fishing traps must sink rather than float in the water column. Other states have similar laws, but may not apply to the entire coastline.

Line strength
Years ago, the lines connecting buoys to the pots and traps set on the bottom were made from natural fibers. Starting in the 1950s, synthetic fibers like polypropylene were used in these lines. In the 1990s, copolymer began replacing polypropylene. These synthetic ropes have become increasingly stronger, lighter and very difficult to break. They are also more likely to stay tangled on a whale. Research is underway to lower the breaking strength of these thin, strong ropes without changing their diameter.

Breakaway swivels and links
The connections between lobster buoys and vertical lines can be made out of plastic with a weak spot in them. The same holds true for connections within gillnets. These links and swivels are designed to break when a certain amount of force, for example 1100 pounds (499 kg), is applied by an entangled whale pulling on the gear. This increases the possibility that whale can break free from the gear, and not stay entangled.

Ropeless Gear
Trap/pot fishermen in Australia are using gear that keeps the buoy and vertical line out of the water column. Their solution is to keep the buoy and line coiled up on the ocean bottom next to the end trap or in a container that will open when it receives a wireless signal sent from the boat that will collect the traps. The buoy will rise to the surface so the fisher can pull the pots out to remove his/her catch. Similar technology is being tested here in the U.S., on both coasts. An example of this ropeless gear is on display in the Whales Today exhibit.

Pingers were created by scientists working with fishermen from the Gulf of Maine to help smaller cetaceans avoid fishing nets. The pingers are attached to the nets and emit a low, but audible noise every four seconds. Porpoises seem to dislike this noise and swim away from it. Pingers have been mandated by NOAA for use on gillnets, as part of cetacean Take Reduction Plans, since 1998. They have been shown to be 90% effective in reducing harbor porpoise bycatch when used properly.

International Cooperation

International cooperation exists at several levels: governmental, non-governmental organization, university, or a combination of any of these. These partnerships involve the sharing of research results and tools, tracking of species and collaborations on research projects. 

logo for International Whaling Commission logo

Some examples include:

  • North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, which includes more than 200 individuals from various research and conservation organizations, shipping and fishing industries, technical experts, U.S. and Canadian government agencies, and state and provincial authorities, all of whom are dedicated to the conservation and recovery of the North Atlantic right whale.
  • “Route Fidelity during Marine Megafauna Migration” a research paper from 2017 featuring twelve researchers from New Zealand, Cook Islands, U.S. and Brazil.
  • “The Recovery of North Atlantic right whales, Eubalaena glacialis, has been constrained by human-caused mortality”, a research paper from 2018 featuring ten researchers from U.S., Australia, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina.
  • European Commission – Environment, which includes all Member States of the European Union.
  • International Whaling Commission – The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the global body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling.  The IWC currently has 89 member governments from countries all over the world.  All members are signatories to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.  This Convention is the legal framework which established the IWC in 1946.

Survival Threats and Conservation Efforts (website links)

The uncomfortable truth is that human activity has had negative impacts on the lives of marine organisms. However, we also have the ability to minimize, and perhaps eliminate, the unintended consequences of our activities on and in the water, and along the coastline. Several organizations and initiatives are working towards these ends.

Whales Today: Survival Threats and Conservation Efforts

Protective Measures

Information on the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, signed in 1946 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC)
This link will provide information on the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling which was signed in Washington DC on 2nd December 1946.

Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972
Read Congress’s findings and policies related to the MMPA