Every year, more than 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises are accidentally caught and killed by commercial fishing — an act referred to as “bycatch.”
For years now, scientists have wondered if there was an effective way to reduce the harm done to cetaceans affected by this phenomenon. Finally, they may have found a solution.
According to The Guardian, scientists are now testing the idea of adding acrylic beads onto commercial fishing nets. When hit with biosonar waves, the plastic beads send back a strong echo, warning animals of the dangers ahead. Turns out, plastic may actually help to save the ocean for once.
Did you know that plastic straws make up 0.025% of ocean plastic, whereas fishing nets make up nearly 50%?
A baby dolphin has just died in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand due to fishing net strangulation.
— Energi Impact (@EnergiImpact) December 20, 2019
The first of many trials was done in Denmark and has already shown promising results. Researchers found that porpoises consistently kept clear of the nets with the beads.
Another trial was conducted in the Black Sea in 2021, where the bycatch of porpoises is quite common. Often, more than a dozen porpoises can be killed through bycatch in a single day. During their trials, only two porpoises were killed using the new nets, as compared to the five killed using the standard nets. However, the study concluded that further research was still needed.
Unfortunately, this only covers half of the problem. When asleep, porpoises don’t typically use their biosonar and can often become entrapped in the nets. Scientists believe the answer to this may be an acoustic alert device that gives out warning signals, which fishermen can attach to their nets.
These devices, called pingers, send out high-pitched sounds that can help cetaceans avoid getting caught up in the nets. It is believed that this device, used alongside the beaded nets, can drastically reduce the number of marine wildlife killed through bycatch.
Although the use of acrylic beads and pingers may be a viable solution, there’s more we can to do lessen the effects of commercial fishing.
Ethical and sustainable fishing is the number one way to deal with bycatch. If you eat fish, make sure you look for Marine Stewardship Council-certified fish and fisheries before you make a purchase.
It’s our responsibility to reduce overfishing and help our sea life thrive once again. These discoveries — and what we do with them — could be an important way to help our oceans start to heal.