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.

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


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

Team Outcomes to Date

Human-wildlife Interactions at Sea: Understanding Pilot Whale Depredation in Longline Fisheries (poster by Talia Buenrostro, Jason Dinh, Roosevelt Mesa Gutierrez, Briana Kleiner, Samantha McClendon, Lauren Pederson, Noah White, Lisa Campbell, Joseph Fader, Alejandro Garcia, Hillary Smith, Andrew Read, Danielle Waples), presented at Bass Connections Showcase, April 18, 2018

Pilot Whale Depredation in the Atlantic Pelagic Longline Fishery: An Interdisciplinary Approach (poster by Talia Buenrostro, Lisa Campbell, Jason Dinh, Joseph Fader, Briana Kleiner, Alejandro Garcia Lozano, Samantha McLendon, Roosevelt Mesa, Lauren Pederson, Andrew Read, Hillary Smith, Danielle Waples, Noah White; winner of Best Poster at Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Marine Mammal Symposium, March 23-25, 2018, Conway, SC)

Interactions between Short-finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) and Pelagic Longline Fisheries in the Cape Hatteras Special Research Area (CHSRA) (oral presentation by Roosevelt A. Mesa at Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Marine Mammal Symposium, March 24, 2018, Conway, SC)

Human-Wildlife Interactions: OBX and Fisheries Observer Program (article by Samantha McLendon)

This Team in the News

Students Present Research on Interactions between Whales and Fisheries

Bass Connections team members at SEAMAMMS

/faculty/staff Team Members

  • Lisa Campbell, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation*
  • Joseph Fader, Nicholas School - Ecology-Ph.D. Student*
  • Alejandro Garcia Lozano, Nicholas School of the Environment*
  • Andrew Read, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation*
  • Hillary Smith, Nicholas School - Marine Science and Conservation-Ph.D. Student*
  • Danielle Waples, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/graduate Team Members

  • Roosevelt Mesa Gutierrez, Master of Environmental Management, Coastal Environmental Management

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Talia Buenrostro, Biology (AB)
  • Jason Dinh, Environmental Sciences (BS)
  • Briana Kleiner, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB), Political Science (AB2)
  • Samantha McLendon, Computer Science (AB)
  • Lauren Pederson, Environmental Sciences (BS), Cultural Anthropology (AB2)
  • Noah White, Biology (AB)