A number of area environmental groups are urging residents to “eat local, not lobster,’ after the recent death of a North Atlantic right whale in coastal South Carolina waters.
That whale, an 11-year-old male named Cottontail, was found dead in February after observers first saw him in October entangled in fishing gear used in the lobster and snow crab industries, according to environmentalists. They say that since 2017, at least 47 have been killed after being hit by ships or entangled in such gear, and estimate there are fewer than 375 remaining North Atlantic right whales left on the planet and only about 100 calving females.
The environmental groups include One Hundred Miles, Glynn Environmental Coalition, St. Marys Earthkeepers and the Richmond Hill-based The Dolphin Project.
“Every year, coastal residents and visitors celebrate the right whale’s migration to our shores, but few people fully understand the impact our food choices have on the fate of these animals,” said Peach Hubbard, president of The Dolphin Project. “By educating Georgians about the impact of current lobster and snow crab fishing practices, we hope our consumer campaign will send a unified message that we need more effective protections now.”
The whales travel thousands of miles to calve in waters off the Georgia coast. Like Cottontail, entangled right whales often suffer long and painful deaths, the groups say, because ropes and gear from the lobster and snow crab industries in New England and Canada wrap around right whales, obstructing their ability to swim and breathe, the groups say.
And with only 16 calves documented so far this calving season, the whales’ death rate is significantly outpacing their current rate of birth, the groups claim, adding that scientists predict the species could become extinct in as little as 20 years. The campaign partners said hough Georgia is geographically removed from the source of entanglement, Georgians have a stake in the survival of the state’s marine mammal.
“We are hopeful that this campaign gives Georgians a tangible and immediate way to help right whales, while also supporting the fishing communities of the Southeast,” said Lex Kearns, executive director of the St. Marys EarthKeepers. “Fishing, crabbing and shrimping have been an economic backbone of our coastal communities for generations and offer a delicious seafood alternative to New England lobster.”
Megan Desrosiers, president and CEO of One Hundred Miles, said if “we don’t change our habits now and demand meaningful protections, we will lose our coast’s connection to these beloved whales— because they will cease to exist.”
Learn more at One-HundredMiles.org/Right-Whales.