Mortality and serious injury determinations for northwest Atlantic Ocean large whale stocks 1999-2003
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Mortality and serious injury determinations for northwest Atlantic Ocean large whale stocks 1999-2003
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    As part of the 1994 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) was mandated to establish monitoring programs to obtain statistically reliable estimates of incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals taken during commercial fishing operations. A serious injury has been defined as "any injury that will likely result in mortality". Using guidelines recommended by NMFS's 1997 Serious Injury Workshop, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center developed protocols for determining large whale serious injuries and human-caused mortalities. We describe the protocols used and report on the determinations made for right, humpback, fin, sei, blue, minke and Brydes whale events that occurred from 1999 through 2003 along the eastern seaboard of the United States. A total of 408 unique large whale events were reported during the period, including both strandings and sightings at sea. These included 173 entanglement reports and 37 reports of ship strikes. We were able to verify 146 entanglement events, 25 ship strikes, and 267 mortalities. Entanglements were identified as the cause of 29 whale deaths and ship strikes the cause of 18. Entanglements were determined to have caused serious injury in 18 events. Minke whales had the greatest number of entanglement mortalities (15). Humpback whales had the highest number of serious injury events resulting from entanglements (12) and the most incidents of ship strike mortalities (6). Right whales and fin whales each had five mortalities from ship strikes. No serious injuries resulting from ship strikes were confirmed for any species. These human-caused mortality and serious injury rates represent the minimum levels of impact to these stocks. Procedures and methods for estimating actual serious injury and mortality rates have yet to be developed.
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