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Assessing changes in numbers and distribution of large whale entanglements in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada



Entanglements of large whales in commercial fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, have been consistently recorded since 1979, as part of a program aimed at releasing captured animals and reducing costs to fishermen. This data set represented an opportunity to identify fisheries posing particular entanglement risks to local whale populations. Data were assessed over the periods 1979–1992 and 1993–2008, corresponding to distinct phases in fisheries distribution and intensity. Between 1979 and 2008, 1,209 large whale entanglements were recorded in Newfoundland and Labrador. These were mostly humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae; 80%) and minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata; 15%). Dramatic declines in reported inshore whale entanglement rates were observed following the 1992 moratorium on Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) fisheries. Recently, more entanglements have been reported further offshore, largely due to expansion of fisheries targeting snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio). For all whale species, entanglement rates and associated mortality rates varied considerably in different fishing gear. Fractions of humpback and minke whales found dead in different fishing gear differed substantially, with minke whales far more likely to be found dead than humpback whales.