Preventing endangered northern right whales from becoming entangled in lobster gear could be as simple as changing the color of rope, a whale researcher says. If the whales can see the fishing gear more clearly, then they are better able to avoid it, says Scott Kraus, a leading researcher on northern right whales. He outlined his research at the Maine Fishermen's Forum, an annual fishing industry event. Generally speaking, his team found that right whales were most likely to respond to orange or red, and they were less likely to react to green and black. Think of the colored rope as "traffic cones," says Kraus.
Although the whales see their ocean world in black-and-white, it makes sense that they can differentiate orange from other colors because the clouds of zooplankton upon which they feed are orange in color, said Michael Moore, director of the marine mammal center at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The research was long overdue, Moore said, because fishing gear entanglements are common. More than 80% of right whales show evidence of having been entangled in some type of fishing gear. Kraus says he has more work to do but is working with a manufacturer on designs. (Read more whales stories.)