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Cetaceans 4th Grade Curriculum—Lesson 17: How Can We Reduce Threats to North Atlantic Right Whales?1

Maia Patterson McGuire and Ruth Francis-Floyd 2

Description

Students will learn about ways to minimize ship strikes and whale entanglements. Students will explore ways that they as individuals can help protect North Atlantic right whales.

Objectives

By the conclusion of the activities, students will:

  • Be able to explain what some of the most significant threats to North Atlantic right whales are

  • Be able to explain how these threats can affect the whales

  • Be able to explain the threat posed by the New England lobster fishery to North Atlantic right whales, and steps that have been taken to make it safer for the whales while minimizing impact on the fishery. Students should be able to explain the advantages and disadvantages of newly developed "sinking" ropes, compared to more traditional "floating" ropes

  • Be able to explain how ships pose a threat to North Atlantic right whales, and list two or three things that have been done to decrease this threat

  • Explore the potential negative impacts of local actions and ways to reduce them

What You Will Need

  • Computers with Internet access (for individual students or groups of up to three students)

  • Copies of Help the Right Whale Fix What's Wrong Game student worksheet for each student or group of students

  • Copies of Right Whale Incident Data student worksheet for each student

Standards

Sunshine State Standards

Mathematics

  • MAFS.4.AO.1.1 Interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, e.g., interpret 35 = 5 × 7 as a statement that 35 is 5 times as many as 7 and 7 times as many as 5. Represent verbal statements of multiplicative comparisons as multiplication equations.

Science

  • SC.4.L.17.4 Recognize ways plants and animals, including humans, can impact the environment.

  • SC.4.N.1.1 Raise questions about the natural world, use appropriate reference materials that support understanding to obtain information (identifying the source), conduct both individual and team investigations through free exploration and systematic investigations, and generate appropriate explanations based on those explorations.

Common Core Standards

Mathematics

  • 4.OA.A.1 Interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, e.g., interpret 35 = 5 × 7 as a statement that 35 is 5 times as many as 7 and 7 times as many as 5. Represent verbal statements of multiplicative comparisons as multiplication equations.

Procedure

  1. Tell the students that today's lesson will cover threats facing North Atlantic right whales (and other cetaceans).

  2. Discussion/Lesson:

      • It might be beneficial at this point to explain a bit about trap fishing off the northeastern US. Peak lobster fishing in the Gulf of Maine is in the summer and fall, but some lobstermen fish throughout the year. Typically, commercial boats fishing for lobster set lines of traps where each trap is connected by rope to the next trap. There can be as many as 15 to 30 traps per line, and a commercial lobsterman may set hundreds of traps at a time. Each line of traps has to have a buoy (attached by rope) at least at one end, but the specific requirements vary with location. Traditionally, the ropes that connected the traps would float, making a loop of rope between traps. Fishermen are now required to use sinking ropes in certain areas. These sinking lines are hoped to reduce the entanglement risk to whales.

      • Explain to students that ¾ of North Atlantic right whales show evidence of entanglement (scars). Mention that fishermen have complained that sinking lines are more likely to get tangled on rocky bottoms, resulting in more broken rope and abandoned traps in the water. The idea of a low-density rope, which would float slightly and stay off the bottom, but would hopefully not float high enough in the water column to impact whales, is being considered.

  3. Review with students what they have learned about threats to right whales (from this lesson and Lessons 15 and 16). Ask students to list things that pose a threat to right whales and write these things on the board. Discuss the way each of the items listed affects the whales and write this next to each item. Your final list or table should include the following:

Table 1. 

4. Ask students if they think any of the threats could be prevented, and if so, how. Ideas include the following:

Table 2. 

5. Discussion/Lesson:

6. Explain to students that there have been laws and regulations that have changed to help protect right whales.

    • In 2009, the shipping channel into Boston was shifted slightly from an area where whales were abundant to an area where they were less common. The change is expected to reduce the number of ship strikes in that area by about 60 to 80%. The change only increased travel time by 10 to 22 minutes. Additionally, if a right whale call has been detected by one of the acoustic buoys in the channel, ships must slow to no more than 10 knots (11.5 mph) and post a lookout to watch for whales. All ships traveling through right whale feeding areas must also slow to no more than 10 knots at certain times of year (the dates vary by location). Although not mandated at this time, ships traveling into the ports of Fernandina (FL), Jacksonville (FL), Brunswick (GA), and Cape Cod Bay (MA) are asked to use recommended vessel routes to reduce the risk of right whale strikes. Ships are required to slow down to 10 knots (about 11.5 mph) or fewer when traveling through the right whale calving area off southern Georgia and northeastern Florida between November 15 and April 15. They must also slow down in certain portions of the whales' migratory route (between Connecticut and Georgia) from November 1 through April 30.

    • In 2009, the federal government required the use of sinking ropes for lobster traps set in certain geographic areas.

    • In 1997, the federal government issued approach limits for right whales. It is illegal to approach and remain within 500 yards of a right whale.

    • Hunting of right whales was banned in 1937. In US waters, all whales have been protected since 1972.

    • Challenge students to think of any ideas that they, their families, or their communities could put into action to help protect whales, especially right whales. Here are a few possible ideas:

    • Go slowly if boating in the migratory or calving area between November and April, or in the feeding areas in the spring and summer (see maps at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/shipstrike/compliance_guide.pdf).

    • Report right whale sightings—information about right whale locations is sent to ships traveling in the area so they know to slow down and look out for the whales. In parts of northeastern Florida, you can join a volunteer right whale sighting network (see www.marinelandrightwhale.blogspot.com) or report sightings to 877-WHALE HELP (877-942-5343).

    • Recycle fishing line and dispose of other fishing gear properly. You can find more information at www.fishinglinerecycling.org.

    • Pick up trash, volunteer for coastal or beach cleanups, or start a recycling campaign.

    • Do not approach a right whale, even if it is swimming close to shore. Remember to stay at least 500 yards away (that's more than five football fields in length!).

    • Raise money for right whale research, or sponsor or adopt a right whale (http://www.andersoncabotcenterforoceanlife.org/our-work/research/right-whales/right-whale-sponsorship/; www.adoptrightwhales.ca).

    • Report dead, injured, or entangled whales to 877-WHALE HELP (877-942-5343).

Activities

Activity 1: Right whale mortalities (data interpretation/math)

  1. Give students copies of pages 17-10 through 17-12.

  2. Ask students to complete the data sheet (page 17-13) using the information from this table.

Activity 2: Lobsters vs. whales (suggested for advanced students)

  1. Students will research how American lobster fishing in the New England region affects whales, specifically North Atlantic right whales.

  2. Divide students into seven groups. Each group will be assigned a specific role: lobster fisherman, NOAA Fisheries Officer, right whale researcher, member of environmental activist group, member of local fishing coalition, ecotour operator (whale watch boat captain), and state wildlife official.

  3. Each group will use the Internet to research and formulate answers to questions listed below from the perspective of their assigned role.

  4. Each group should select a spokesperson to represent them at a "public forum" (moderated by the teacher) to debate the statement, "Current lobster fishing practices are more of a threat to lobstermen than to whales." (Remind students that they will be speaking in the "voice" of their assigned role, and not necessarily voicing their opinions.)

  5. Questions to be researched:

    • What current regulations exist for commercial lobster fishermen?

    • How have these regulations changed in order to protect whales?

    • How has this affected lobster fishermen?

    • What do we know about the hazards of commercial lobster fishing to whales?

    • What additional regulations have been suggested for lobster fishing?

    • How are these likely to affect lobster fishermen? Whales?

Each group may wish to do additional research to support their position. Teachers who are interested in learning more about lobster fishing might want to read The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson, or The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island by Linda Greenlaw.

Activity 3: Help the Right Whale Fix What's Wrong game

  1. Provide each student a copy of the Help the Right Whale Fix What's Wrong handout (pages 17-6 to 17-7).

  2. Have students access the Help the Right Whale Fix What's Wrong game at the Ocean Conservancy website (http://act.oceanconservancy.org/rightwhalegame/rightwhale.html).

  3. Students can play individually or in groups.

  4. Give students copies of the Help the Right Whale Fix What's Wrong game student worksheet. Tell students to read all of the questions on the worksheet so they will know what information they are looking for as they play the game. (Note: the "fact pages" in the game appear in a different order each time the game is played, so the questions may not be sequential with the version of the game the students are playing.)

  5. Allow students to play the game (they should read the information on the screen before clicking "Begin Adventure." Note: sound is available but not required for this game). They may need or want to play it more than once to allow everyone a turn and to make sure they get all of the information filled out on the worksheet. Give the students about 15 minutes to play the game and complete the worksheet. If students are having difficulty finding the answers to questions on the worksheet, encourage them to click on the "Print Materials" link at the end of the game. This will open a pdf document which they can read without printing.

Help the Right Whale Fix What's Wrong Game Student Worksheet

  1. In what month do volunteers around the world pick up trash to help sea animals?

  2. Why is trash harmful to sea animals?

  3. In the first round of the game, the whale encounters krill, jellyfish, and trash. Put a check mark in the appropriate box to show what effect each of these items has on right whales.

Table 3. 

4. What is the length of an average adult right whale?

5. A right whale's head is about of its total body length.

6. About how many years can right whales live?

7. What color do cyamids make the whale's callosities look?

8. Why are the ropes that are attached to lobster traps dangerous for whales?

9. What are fishermen doing to reduce the risk of rope entanglements to whales?

10. For how many years do right whale calves stay with their mothers?

11. How are ships dangerous to right whales?

12. How can ships reduce their threat to whales?

13. What were the three threats to right whales in this game?

a.

b.

c.

Answer Key
  1. In what month do volunteers around the world pick up trash to help sea animals? September

  2. Why is trash harmful to sea animals? Trash can choke or poison sea animals ("Millions of sea animals are choked or poisoned by trash each year").

  3. In the first round of the game, the whale encounters krill, jellyfish, and trash. Put a check mark in the appropriate box to show what effect each of these items has on right whales.

Table 4. 

4. What is the length of an average adult right whale? 50 feet

5. A right whale's head is about one third (1/3) of its total body length.

6. About how many years can right whales live? 60 years

7. What color do cyamids make the whale's callosities look? White

8. Why are the ropes that are attached to lobster traps dangerous for whales? When whales swim through the water, the lines may wrap around the whales' flukes and flippers or through their mouths and baleen. This may prevent the whales from surfacing for air (i.e., the ropes drown the whales), and also cut into their skin so they cannot swim as well.

9. What are fishermen doing to reduce the risk of rope entanglements to whales? They are using ropes that sink, which are less likely to entangle the whales.

10. For how many years do right whale calves stay with their mothers? About one year

11. How are ships dangerous to right whales? They can hit whales, hurting or killing them.

12. How can ships reduce their threat to whales? Ships can slow down when they are in areas where whales are present.

13. What were the three threats to right whales in this game?

a. Trash

b. Fishing ropes

c. Boats

Summary of North Atlantic Right Whale Incidents, 1999–2008

Compiled using data obtained from the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources' Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, Northeast Regional Office, and Southeast Regional Office, with assistance from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, New England Aquarium, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Table 5. 

Information Current as of April 13, 2008

Table 6. 

Information Current as of April 13, 2008 (continued)

Table 7. 

Information Current as of April 13, 2008 (continued)

Right Whale Incident Data Student Worksheet

  1. How many right whales are listed in the table?

  2. How many years does the table cover?

  3. What is the average number of right whale incidents per year? (Divide your answer to #1 by your answer to #2.) ÷ =

  4. How many of the whales listed are female?

  5. How many of the whales listed are male?

  6. How many of the whales are calves?

  7. Use information from the incident data to complete the following table:

Table 8. 

8. What type of threat causes more deaths, vessel strikes or entanglement?

9. What type of threat causes more injuries, vessel strikes or entanglement?

10. Were most of the incidents in northern waters (Canada, MA, VA, MD, NY) or southern waters (NC, GA, FL, TX)?

Answer Key

  1. How many right whales are listed in the table? 47

  2. How many years does the table cover? 9

  3. What is the average number of right whale incidents per year? (Divide your answer to #1 by your answer to #2.) 47 ÷ 9 = 5 remainder 2, 5 2/9, or 5.22

  4. How many of the whales listed are female? 25

  5. How many of the whales listed are male? 15

  6. How many of the whales are calves? 8

  7. Use information from the incident data to complete the following table:

Table 9. 

8. What type of threat causes more deaths, vessel strikes or entanglement? Vessel strikes

9. What type of threat causes more injuries, vessel strikes or entanglement? Entanglement

10. Were most of the incidents in northern waters (Canada, MA, VA, MD, NY) or southern waters (NC, GA, FL, TX)? Northern waters (32 of the 47)

Lobster Traps Floating vs. Sinking Ropes

a) Lobster traps set with sinking rope

Figure 1. 
Figure 1. 
Credit: Boat: Gettyimages.com; Whale; Garth Mix

b) Lobster traps set with floating rope

Figure 2. 
Figure 2. 
Credit: Boat: Gettyimages.com; Whale; Garth Mix

Footnotes

1. This document is VM242, one of a Cetaceans 4th Grade Curriculum series of the Veterinary Medicine—Large Animal Clinical Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date June 2019. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Maia Patterson McGuire, Sea Grant Extension agent, UF/IFAS Extension St. Johns and Flagler Counties; and Ruth Francis-Floyd, professor, Extension veterinarian, UF College of Veterinary Medicine and UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #VM242

Date: 10/1/2019

  • Program Area: Youth development
Curriculum
4-H/Youth

Contacts

  • Maia McGuire