French President Macron may not have realized it, but he got into another hunting war earlier this month when he and 200 other guests were treated to the White House treat of butter-poached Maine lobsters doused with American Osetra caviar and garnished with crispy celery.
The lobster at issue was the lobster, which is currently the subject of a court ruling designed to prevent Maine lobster species from trapping the crustaceans in bait pots featuring stripes that could fatally entangle North Atlantic right whales. There are now only 340 of these whales left, with only about 100 females breeding, making this species one of the most endangered on the planet.
The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative celebrated the selection, saying it was “proud” that guests were “enjoying the delicious taste of Maine lobsters.” The international advocacy group Oceana responded by saying that “the lobster on their menu cannot be considered sustainable by any definition.”
The rift between Maine’s billion-dollar lobster industry, which employs more than 10,000 lobsters, and the White House, and new protections issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has deep roots.
The number of right whales has declined from 500 a decade ago while the lobster industry is booming in Maine. The industry argues that its vertical lines attached to the buoys are to blame. Some refer to ships colliding, others to gillnets.
The right whale was one of the first whale species to gain protection in the 1930s, but US wildlife authorities are now warning that it could be gone in 40 years. Most recently, in September, a real whale named Snow Cone was seen entangled in new fishing gear and in “extremely poor health”.
says Michael Moore of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and author of the book We are all whalers. We do not succeed in avoiding fatal tangles or tangles that are harmful to their health. For whales to reproduce and for their numbers to recover, they must be fit, obese and healthy.”
The issue is getting worse. Last month, a US federal judge ordered an extension of two years before new anti-tangle regulations take effect. Meanwhile, Whole Foods removed lobsters from its stores after California-based Seafood Watch added US and Canadian lobster fisheries to its “red list.”
This week, the Marine Stewardship Board’s suspension of certification for the lobster industry in Maine goes into effect. The council described the whales’ entanglement as a “dangerous and tragic situation”.
“They’re really vulnerable, more so than other whales,” says Philip Hoare, author of LeviathanIt is sad and insane that this is happening off the shores of the richest democracy on Earth.
But as the ocean warms, they’re moving north from their typical winter feeding ground off Cape Cod, hunting for copepods (a small type of zooplankton), where they encounter Maine’s intense crab industry and encounter crab lines and floats, which don’t. wear them. I do not see.
“They are surprisingly flexible animals, and they twist and turn and tangle their luck,” says Hoare. “The lobster’s stripes can then be stretched around its caudal stalk — the tail stock — causing it to gnaw.” He adds that it is “a horrible slow death…”
According to Moore, the issue goes back to consumerism. At one time, whales were being hunted for oil and baleen; Now they are affected by our demand for merchandise. “All of this is driven by climate change and the direct impact of the things we do to extract resources and the things we want.”
But no one, as the White House testifies, excludes the power of this demand as an economic engine and political force. “It’s a wonderful mismatch that comes down to what we really care about,” Moore says. “In some ways the right whale is the totem of all the different pieces of the collapse of biodiversity that we are witnessing.”
Inside this marvel is the whale itself, often called the urban whale because it lives so close to shore. “These are huge, very strange animals,” says Hoare, who is known, among other things, for “very long sessions of foreplay of three or four hours.”
Males have the largest testicles of any animal on the planet, and mating often involves several males and one female—a “socially active group” in scientific terms. “You see them rolling around in the shallow water in a very sensual way, grabbing each other with their flippers. There’s a lot of animals involved, and it’s obviously sexual. They seem to be stuck in the moment.”
For Right Pisces, getting involved in human affairs is never so good. But there may be a glimmer of hope if the lobster industry embraces “ropeless” lobster pots that can be triggered by acoustic cues to rise to the surface.
Until that happens, the right whale’s situation looks bleak. “You can’t protect a whale and get a lobster,” says Hoare. “It’s that simple and it scares the lobster industry. They can see it coming.”