Human-wildlife Interactions at Sea (2017-2018)


Human-wildlife conflicts are often portrayed as one-way interactions, emphasizing either ecological or social components, but are rarely considered from a cross-disciplinary perspective as complex, dynamic, social-ecological problems. Disconnects among disciplines contribute to understandings of these as intractable, “lose-lose” dilemmas by missing key dynamics and possible solutions.

The pelagic longline fishery in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. is embedded in long-standing cultural ties to place, identity and livelihoods. This fishery also experiences serious problems with marine mammal depredation of bait and catch, and incidental capture of short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus).

Depredation occurs when pilot whales feed on bait and tuna caught on longlines, reducing the quantity and value of catch and occasionally harming themselves in the process by becoming hooked or entangled. Development of the fishery has coincided with whale conservation efforts mandated by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), thereby increasing the potential for conflict. Pilot whales are an important component of the western North Atlantic shelf ecosystem and are listed as a strategic species under the MMPA, yet their interactions with the fishery are not well understood.

Project Description

To address this critical intersection of whale conservation and traditional livelihoods, this Bass Connections project will study the history and dynamics of human-wildlife interactions in the pelagic longline fishery from ecological, behavioral, social and institutional perspectives.

The goal of this project is to better understand the history and dynamics of interactions between fishermen and the pilot whales that depredate the fishermen’s catch and occasionally become entangled in their gear. The team will assess how fishers’ behavior has adapted in response to conflict with the whales, how whales modify their behavior to interact with the fishery and how regulatory frameworks have shaped these interactions.

To identify potential solutions to the depredation problem, the team will use a diverse set of approaches, including geospatial analysis, interviews with fishers, ethnographic observation of key stakeholder meetings and institutional analysis of regulations.

Team members will conduct a geospatial analysis using satellite telemetry data from over 50 tagged pilot whales and locations of longline sets from Vessel Trip Reports, and will interview longtime fishermen along the U.S. East Coast. Team members will also attend stakeholder meetings convened by the federal National Marine Fisheries Service and use ethnographic methods to understand how different stakeholders represent conflicts with pilot whales and interact with one another.

Lastly, the team will analyze regulatory documents to examine how regulations have changed over time and the effects on human-whale interactions. A synthesis of these diverse methods will provide insight on how various actors (fishermen, scientists, managers, NGO representatives) perceive the whales, and how their framing of the problem positions them relative to various mitigation methods and possibilities.

Related Courses

The PhD leaders will co-teach a three-credit seminar designed to engage undergraduate and master’s students broadly on issues of human-wildlife conflict. This course will give an overview of interactions in both terrestrial and marine ecosystems and engage in interdisciplinary discussion. Course participants will also conduct research with the project.

Anticipated Outcomes

Several academic publications; presentation of findings to the fishing communities and National Marine Fisheries Service, in scientific conferences, stakeholder meetings and regional fisheries symposia

Student Opportunities

This project will follow a working group model with biweekly meetings and thematic-area leaders spearheading specific branches of data collection, analyses, publication and outreach. These smaller thematic teams will coordinate with the wider team structure and meet additionally as needed.

The project will enrich PhD students’ ability to conduct research beyond their dissertations. Master’s and undergraduate students will benefit through skills training in research methods (e.g., interviews, surveys, coding, geospatial analysis) and software packages (qualitative coding software, GIS), and in their own theses or master’s projects. Attending meetings, conducting research and analysis and writing results will enhance participants’ science communication skills across disciplines.

There will be mechanisms for group feedback on each individual team member’s progress and contributions. Master’s students will develop their individual master’s projects, which will serve as a mechanism for evaluation. Undergraduate students will also receive the opportunity to be evaluated through an independent study, research assistantships or thesis projects. Participants in the literature review course will also be evaluated with course grades.

We seek two undergraduates and one master’s student to join the team as research assistants. Ideal candidates will be either in the natural sciences or have a strong interest in social sciences, in their second or third year with an interest in applying the skills being learned in their major to current marine conservation issues. An MEM student concentrating in Coastal and Environmental Management who intends to move to the Duke Marine Lab for his/her second year (2017-2018 academic year) is sought to begin work during Summer 2017 and serve as project manager; this person will be responsible for coordinating travel logistics for the interview portion of the study, as well as organizing team meetings for the duration of the contract. S/he will also conduct research directly with the PhD students, conducting interviews along the East Coast for Summer and Fall 2017. This project will comprise a significant component of this student’s master’s project.

To understand the spatial and temporal dynamics of interactions between whales and the fishery, the team will conduct a geospatial analysis using satellite telemetry data from over 50 tagged pilot whales and locations of longline sets from Vessel Trip Reports. Team members will assess the overlap of tagged whales with active fishing operations to improve understanding of how the behavior of whales is influenced by the presence of fishing gear in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The team will work closely with East Coast longline fishermen and attend meetings of the Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Team coordinated by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Undergraduate and graduate students will have opportunities to interact with both of these groups.


Summer 2017 – Spring 2018

  • Summer 2017: Conduct fisher interviews; conduct geospatial analyses; collate, organize data
  • Fall 2017: Conduct geospatial analyses; collate, organize data; analyze interview data; literature review course on fishery/wildlife interactions
  • Spring 2018: Write paper on fishers’ perceptions; write comparative policy analysis paper; present outcomes at fishery association meeting (North Carolina Fisheries Association); attend Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Team meetings as available


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Lisa Campbell, Nicholas School - Marine Science and Conservation*
Andrew Read, Nicholas School - Marine Science and Conservation*
Danielle Waples, Nicholas School - Marine Science and Conservation

Graduate Team Members

Joseph Fader, Graduate School - PhD in Ecology
Alejandro Garcia Lozano, Nicholas School - PhD in Marine Science and Conservation
Hillary Smith, Nicholas School - PhD in Marine Science and Conservation

Undergraduate Team Members

Jason Dinh, Environmental Sciences (BS)

* denotes team leader