Marine Animal Response Society details 15 years of cetacean injuries, deaths

Click to play video: 'Warning about at-risk animals in Eastern Canadian waters' Warning about at-risk animals in Eastern Canadian waters
The Marine Animal Response Society has released a large report with 15 years of data, and warns more attention is needed on all mammals in Eastern Canadian waters, especially at-risk cetaceans. Callum Smith explains – Jul 15, 2021

While endangered North Atlantic right whales have been well-documented in recent years due to entanglements and deaths, the Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) is including much more than that in its latest research.

It released a report Thursday, titled: ‘Beyond The Numbers: A 15-Year Retrospective of Cetacean Incidents in Eastern Canada,’ MARS detailed 15 years of data pertaining to incidents involving 25 species marine animals, such as dolphins, whales and porpoises.

“The point is to try to give us a picture as to what has been happening for these incredible animals for the last 15 years,” explains Tonya Wimmer, the executive director of the MARS. “In particular, if there’s any information about things [human] activities may be doing to them so that we can try to protect them long into the future.”

In the 2004-2019 timeframe, 3,136 incidents were reported to local response hotlines, such as MARS, and others in the Atlantic region and Quebec.

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Read more: Canadian government modifies North Atlantic right whale protection measures for 2021

Forty-four per cent of all incidents involved ‘at-risk species,’ according to the report, while dead animals account for 70 per cent of all reported incidents.

However, the cause of 93 per cent of those deaths couldn’t be determined because the animals couldn’t be examined.

“Signs of Human Interaction (HI) were reported in 23% of total reported cetacean incidents,” the report says. “Unfortunately, in 49% of cases it was not clear if signs of HI were looked for or not.”

But most incidents didn’t involve North Atlantic right whales.

“For some species like minke whales, humpback whales and harbour porpoises, they actually represent a really significant proportion of all of the incidents reported to us on the East Coast, almost 50 per cent,” Wimmer says.

Tonya Wimmer, the executive director of the Marine Animal Response Society (MARS), reviews ‘Beyond The Numbers A 15-Year Retrospective of Cetacean Incidents in Eastern Canada,’ a report MARS released Thursday. Neil Benedict / Global News

“Our biggest fear is if some of these other species, we may be missing what’s happened to them and we certainly don’t want them to end up in sort of the same situation as right whales, where there are so few left on the planet,” Wimmer tells Global News.

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And while it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of many of deaths, the report says human-caused threats are impacting many, if not all species.

“We need them,” she says. “As much as we’d like to have them, they’re incredibly valuable parts of our ecosystem and if we’re not paying attention to a vast majority of that ecosystem, we’re really potentially going down a dangerous path.”

Read more: Nova Scotia coast chosen as potential home for retired whales raised in captivity

“While there has been a lot of investment over the last few years, we aren’t there yet in terms of having enough money and resources to be able to investigate as many of the animals as we can, especially of these other species, but also for enough people,” she says.

“Right now, response in our areas is on the shoulders of a few people who’ve been doing this for a very long time.”

So it’s on both government and people to ensure marine animals are protected before it’s too late.

“The main thing really, I think with this report is that we have a wide range of species that are being reported through these incidents, not just sort of our two that are considered, sort of, the government priorities.

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“The other really major point is that a lot of those are being reported to us as dead carcasses, but yet very few are… the support isn’t there or the resources to be able to investigate them, to learn more and figure out what happened to them.”


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