An iconic large whale species, the North Atlantic Right Whale, is rapidly approaching extinction, driven largely by climate change as animals are forced to move farther and wider in search of food. In this process, almost all get entangled in ropes (81% have been entangled once, 58% more than once, up to 7 times), and some of these entanglements result in slow (many months) and agonizing deaths, while the animal slowly starves. As a society, we must make immediate choices and decisions about how important it is to us to preserve and protect these majestic animals. In this class, which is supported by Project Pericles, we will learn about all aspects of right whale biology, ecology, and behavior, as well as about the human-caused threats that they face. We will collaborate with our community partner Whale and Dolphin Conservation, which has focused on right whale conservation for decades, to devise both strategies to raise awareness about the plight of right whales and viable solutions for their protection. They will share information with us about a developing technique called “ropeless” or “on-demand” fishing, as well as some of the challenges this approach presents. Students will work together to devise strategies to raise awareness about right whales with the general public, which in turn should raise pressure to come up with solutions. For example, a successful strategy in the 1980’s was the “Dolphin-safe” tuna label; a similar “Whale-safe” seafood label might provide impetus toward reducing entanglements. Students will be evaluated based on their research, teamwork, and creativity in coming up with viable solutions to this crisis. Students are expected to both lead and be active participants in class discussions, and to prepare written responses to readings. The final project may take a variety of forms, which will be will be developed in consultation with the instructor, TAs, and team members.
- Teacher: Laela Sayigh