For North Atlantic right whales, every day has become a struggle for survival. There are only around 330 left in the world (and only about 80 females of breeding age). At least 34 North Atlantic right whales were killed between 2017 and January 2022, 21 of them in busy Canadian waters. The two major threats they face are entanglements in fishing gear and ship strikes.
We must save North Atlantic right whales from extinction. Research shows vessels travelling at slower speeds can save right whales from a deadly encounter. The slower and smaller the vessel, the higher likelihood of a whale surviving a collision. The government must require ships to slow down in key areas like the Cabot Strait.
The Cabot Strait is a 110-kilometre-wide gap between Newfoundland and Cape Breton that right whales travel through, migrating between feeding grounds in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and areas further south where they birth their calves. This area is also a major international shipping route.
It is very hard for fast-moving vessels to avoid colliding with slow-moving right whales. A vessel strike can result in injuries like painful cuts from propellers or death. Researchers have found that pregnant females and mothers with calves may be more susceptible to vessel strikes, as they spend more time resting and nursing at the surface.
Slowing vessels down to 10 knots or less can reduce the lethality of a collision by 86 per cent.
The Canadian government put in place a voluntary slowdown in the Cabot Strait as a trial in 2020 and 2021, but our two-year investigation shows that ships are still going too fast. During the trial slowdown in the Cabot Strait Oceana Canada tracked the speed of ships, finding 68 per cent of vessels travelled at speeds over 10 knots and 43 per cent exceeded 12 knots.
Entanglements are also threatening these endangered whales. A jungle of roughly one million fishing lines sprawls across the whales’ migration route and feeding areas in Canada and the United States. These ropes have been seen wrapped around North Atlantic right whales’ mouths, fins, tails and bodies or cut into the whales’ flesh. These injuries can lead to life-threatening infections, as well as prevent them from feeding properly which leads to starvation and death. Emerging threats like seismic airgun blasting, a process used to search for oil and gas deep below the seafloor, and climate change, put this species at even greater risk.
These whales can’t protect themselves, but you can help. Together we can make slower speeds the law, defend the few remaining mothers and calves, and help one of the world’s most endangered species. Add your name today >>