Marine Mammal Human Interaction Cases: Six Years of Data from Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Between 1 January 1999 and 31 December 2004, the Cape Cod Stranding Network (CCSN) responded to 1,229 stranded animals. >From that group eighty-eight cases (7.2%) of human interaction were documented. Four species of pinnipeds and six cetacean species (including the critically endangered right whale, Eubalaena glacialis) are represented. Types of human interaction documented during this period include forty-five entanglements, eighteen vessel interactions, three gunshot cases, twenty cases categorized as "other" and two undetermined interactions. The majority of the cases in the "other" category were instances of harassment or illegal handling of animals.
As stipulated in a Letter of Agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), CCSN documents and reports stranded marine mammals on Cape Cod and in southeastern Massachusetts. Standard evaluation of each animal (live and dead) includes a systematic examination for signs of human interaction. The data collected through these exams are provided to NMFS to guide sound, scientifically-based conservation and management measures. Accurate diagnoses of human interactions are essential for determining impacts on marine mammal stocks. Human interaction cases are documented by external examination and, when appropriate and feasible, an internal examination and histological evaluation. Careful documentation of cases includes at a minimum the completion of the human interaction evaluation form, photographs and video.
As a result of data collected during stranding response, CCSN initiated a program to record sightings of human interaction within a local population of gray seals at Monomoy Island Chatham, Massachusetts. Sightings involve fisheries and marine debris entanglements, vessel interactions, and harassment. In response to increases in these sightings, CCSN has established an education program and innovative capture and disentanglement techniques. Through disentanglement efforts an immediate problem for an individual animal is remedied. However, the larger problem of human impacts on marine mammal populations remains. In order for stranding and sighting data to be valuable to protected resource managers, stranding networks must consistently and objectively examine and report human interaction cases.