We have a chance to fix things.

No. 3329 Credit: Peter Flood

“If I seem like a radical, it may be because I see things that others do not. I think if others had the opportunity to witness what I’ve seen in my lifetime…I would not seem like a radical at all. We have a chance to fix things.”

-Her Deepness, Sylvia Earle. Mission Blue

It has taken several days for me to sit down and write this post.  This is not because I don’t know what to say, but because writing the words will make it real.

A year ago, I didn’t even know what a North Atlantic Right Whale was. Since that time, I have spent countless hours researching these animals, their families, their food, their habitats, their mating and migratory behaviors. I have also studied their necropsy reports, lab results, and a multitude of photos that exist of these animals and their babies. Too often, the images I see show them sliced apart or strangled by various fishing lines and lost gear, washed ashore as nothing more than deflated sacks of bone. The images of gaping wounds from propellers or a pathologist’s knife are becoming so common that now I feel each birth, and each loss, as intimately as if they were my own family.

We have lost 6 of a critically endangered species so far this season. Four of them were female.  We know that there are less than 100 breeding females in this tiny population that now numbers only 412. And this number only stands if all 7 of the calves born in Georgia and Florida survive their first year of life.

I will add more to this post as information becomes available, but please take a moment to pay tribute to these six individual animals whose lives enriched our coastal waters for too short of a time.

We still have a chance to fix things.

-Kim Sawicki, 1 July 2019


Please consider a donation to the Center for Coastal Studies, an organization that does incredible work for our North Atlantic Right Whales, as well as our ecosystem-at-large.


What do we know about these animals that died?


Punctuation Credit: DFO

We know that Punctuation, a 38-year-old grandmother, had been previously entangled in fishing gear before and survived. We also know that she was struck twice by boat propellers and lived. We know that she had at least 8 calves that also had successful births. We also know that she traveled to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence this summer, was struck by a third boat, and was killed.


Comet Credit: Dr. Moira Brown

We know that Comet, 34, was a grandfather as well. It has been determined by his autopsy, completed June 28th, 2019 by by the Marine Animal Response Society, DFO, Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, the Atlantic Veterinary College, the province and the Canadian Coast Guard that his death was also, likely due to ship strike.


Wolverine Credit: Sheila McKenney/Associated Scientists of Woods Hole/Marineland Right Whale Project
Wolverine Credit: Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC
Wolverine’s Necropsy Credit: Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC

We know that Wolverine, whose cause of death has yet to be determined, was only 9 years old. This is the equivalent of a 9 year-old human child dying of “unknown” causes. Wolverine was named for the propeller gashes visible along his spine. He also had been the victim of a series of entanglements.


Clipper and Calf 2016 Credit-Marineland RW Project

We know that Clipper, who was necropsied today on the Gaspe Penisula, was the victim many years ago of a previous ship strike that left her with a clipped tail fluke. She was first seen in 2004, and had likely been a mother twice. Clipper was reported as of July 5th, 2019 to have also been killed by a ship strike.


No. 3815 Credit: Center for Coastal Studies

No. 3815 was first seen as a calf off New Jersey in May 2008. She is the daughter of Harmony, No. 3115, who was the daughter of No. 1815. She was only 12 years old, and was just entering the age of sexual maturity.


No. 3329 Credit: Jolinne Surette

No. 3329 was likely born in December 2002 off Georgia. She is the daughter of Viola No. 2029 who was the daughter of Ipanema, No. 1629. She was also quite photogenic.


We still have a chance to fix things. Right Whale Credit: Brian Skerry
sustainable seas 2019

An amazing and enlightening video on the life of Scottish fishers…

Why is this issue of sustainably-caught seafood such a controversial one? Take an hour to watch the fascinating BBC video above to find out! Featuring Dougie Vipond, this documentary is not only riveting, but speaks volumes about how far we have still to go to make sure that we are good stewards of the seas.

Kim Sawicki February 2019

Entanglements, the book.

Tora Johnson’s exhaustive look at the issue of cetacean entanglement and fisheries management is just as accurate and relevant today as it was when she first began her research. While some of the players have changed, the issue remains largely unresolved. Her insights lend remarkable depth and understanding to anyone wishing to navigate the complexities of change within our vital coastal communities.

You can buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Entanglements-Intertwined-Fates-Whales-Fishermen/dp/0813027977

-Kim Sawicki February 2019

Critical Habitat Areas

North Atlantic Right Whale and Calf -NOAA, 2018.

North Atlantic right whales migrate between waters in southeastern US and the Northeast Atlantic.  The area off Georgia and northern Florida has been designated as the North Atlantic Right Whale Critical Habitat Area, as the whale calves in the area during winter months.(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Institute, 2018) As a result, some stationary gears with vertical lines are restricted during these months, presenting real challenges to fishery managers as they try to protect the endangered animals while lessening economic impacts to the region’s fishing industry. Restricting the use of traditional pot gear during these calving months helps protect right whales, but it restricts the ability of fishermen to utilize potentially preferable waters for fishing Black Sea Bass. Developing and testing practical whale-safe gears would resolve the dilemma that faces all of those involved. One option is to develop “ropeless” pot fishing technologies which use no vertical lines during pot fishing.

-Kim Sawicki December 2018.


Steps toward an ecosystem-based fishery

The difference between the difficult and the impossible is that the impossible takes a little longer time. -Lady Aberdeen

Diamond Rocks, Kilkee. County Clare. Ireland

As consumer demand for sustainably produced food grows, industry, too, will need to be directly involved in the hands-on adaptation of techniques that ensure profitability as well as workforce compliance with policy.

During my recent study abroad in Ireland, I was witness to the pride and commitment the fishing industry had toward sustainable practices, as well as in maintaining their strong cultural identities. Understanding how that balance is achieved is critical to formulating a best-practices approach to implementation of new technologies in the United States, which has been struggling in its efforts to adopt new methods. With multilevel-multi-agency policies now being implemented that limit fisheries acceptable biological catch, innovative approaches to harvesting fish from the sea has become a necessity. Policy adaptation supporting advanced fishing technologies which are designed to reduce bycatch and entanglements can cripple industry if too restrictive and must be adopted in ways that are manageable and fair for success to be realized. Lobbyists, scientists, and industry in the US are now resorting to a variety of litigious measures to protect their stated interests, therefore, understanding how the EU cooperatively manages their fishing industry could prove highly beneficial. Policy measures that ensure solicitation from all stakeholders will be examined, and future suggestions for a novel framework for the US managed fisheries will be proposed. My study will focus on those policies and directives in the EU identified to have had the most positive impact on fishermen and their communities. This research is instrumental in assisting with efforts in the US when interacting with community fisheries to encourage a more fruitful and engaged cooperative attitude toward marine conservation.

-Kim Sawicki October 2018

Fishing without Rope?

Southern Right Whales. © Brian Skerry

Past research has indicated an undeniable benefit to the use of innovative ropeless gear within pot and trap fisheries with a removal of end lines and buoy lines. (Baumgartner et al., 2018.; Werner et al., 2015; Lent, 2017; FAO, 2018) These innovative approaches to end line management allow for the lowered risk of bycatch and entanglements of critically endangered species, most particularly that of the North Atlantic Right Whale.

It is imperative that a better understanding of the benefits and potential gains be attained if technology such as this is to be affordable and accepted for widespread use for pot/trap fisheries.  Due the innate differences of individual fisheries, it is well accepted that there will likely not exist one perfect ropeless technology that will address all of the individual needs of all fisheries. Many of the current designs have several decades of successful use in other applications, serving to catalyze and invigorate new manufacturers of gear, as well as thoughtful adaptations of existing devices.

As with any proposed change to fishing technique or technology, there has historically been a period of resistance, research, and adjustment. This period has been unusually long for ropeless gear, and thus far, much of the discourse between management and industry partners has been laden with untested hypothetical concerns regarding functionality and implementation.


Valid concerns provided by fishers with decades of harvesting experience have not been reasonably resolved with the limited testing that has been completed by manufacturers, environmental non-government organizations, or fisheries partners. To ensure the continued success of a co-management approach to fisheries practices, priority needs to be given to further this testing.

-Kim Sawicki January 2019

Spend some time with people, before you change their way of life.


“Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.” – Carl Gustav Jung

Civic engagement and communication are the most vital link to understanding those factors that drive successful policy change. Immersing oneself in local cultural activities can work to promote the position of all scientists working in marine conservation. Cerebral comprehension of issues that concern fishing communities when faced with change is not enough to inform decision makers, instead, having a “finger on the pulse” of that which makes a community strong is. Often, understanding comes from rapport that develops through identifying shared interests and commonalities.

Spending quality time with those lives you will affect through suggested policy changes ensures that you have the opportunity to not only study the economic impacts these policies can and do have on these communities, but also the cultural implications and experiences that are realized.

-Kim Sawicki December 2018