Another Critically Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale Found Dead
Press Release Date: January 29, 2024
WASHINGTON – In response to the dead North Atlantic right whale discovered off Edgartown, Massachusetts today, Oceana released the following statements:
“It’s devastating to hear about another loss to North Atlantic right whales,” said Gib Brogan, campaign director at Oceana in the United States. “This death is even more troubling when it is a female that could have gone on to have many calves of her own for decades to come. The recovery of North Atlantic right whales cannot take any more setbacks. While we don’t know the cause of this calf’s death, entanglement with fishing gear and collisions with boats remain the top threats to the future of North Atlantic right whales. Since 2017, at least 55 North Atlantic right whales have been killed or seriously injured by boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. This latest example should serve as a wakeup call that the status quo is not working. The survival of North Atlantic right whales requires strong leadership in the U.S. and Canadian governments to ensure fishing and boat traffic stop killing the remaining whales.”
“January has started and ended with tragedy for critically endangered North Atlantic right whales,” said Kim Elmslie, campaign director at Oceana in Canada. “A female right whale calf found dead, right on the heels of news of another calf struck by a small boat at the beginning of the month, underscores the urgent need for continued, strong and mandatory protection to safeguard these whales from entanglements in fishing gear and ship strikes. With a population of just 356 whales left, each loss significantly impacts the already fragile population.
The Canadian government and the shipping and fishing industries must do everything possible to protect these whales from ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement. Vessel slowdowns must be permanent, mandatory and in place across right whales’ full migration route. Transitioning to ropeless and on-demand fishing gear allows fishing to continue without putting whales at risk of entanglement. It also safeguards access to lucrative international seafood markets as required under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. We must protect these whales from extinction.”
North Atlantic right whales were a frequent target of whalers as they were often found near shore, swim slowly, and tend to float when killed. They were aggressively hunted, and their population dropped from peak estimates of up to 21,000 to perhaps fewer than 100 by the 1920s. After whaling of North Atlantic right whales was banned in 1935, their population increased to as many as 483 individuals in 2010. Unfortunately, that progress has reversed.
Entanglements in fishing gear used to catch lobster, crab, and other species is another leading cause of North Atlantic right whale deaths. Around one-quarter of the population is entangled in fishing gear from the U.S. and Canada each year, and about 85% have been entangled at least once. Ropes have been seen wrapped around their mouths, fins, tails, and bodies, which slow them down; make it difficult to swim, reproduce, and feed; and can cause death. The lines cut into the whales’ flesh, leading to life-threatening infections, and are so strong that they have severed fins and tails, and cut into bone.
Collisions with boats is a leading cause of North Atlantic right whale injury and death. They are slow, swimming around 6 miles (or 9.5 kilometres) per hour, usually near the water’s surface. Mother calf pairs and especially susceptible to vessel strikes because they spend more time at the surface. They are also dark in color and lack a dorsal fin, making them very difficult to spot. Studies have found that the speed of a vessel is a major factor in vessel-related collisions with North Atlantic right whales. At high speeds, vessels cannot maneuver to avoid them, and they swim too slowly to be able to move out of the way. This puts them at great risk of being struck, which can cause deadly injuries from blunt-force trauma or cuts from propellers.
To learn more about Oceana’s campaign to save North Atlantic right whales from extinction, please click here.
Oceana Canada was established as an independent charity in 2015 and is part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana Canada has successfully campaigned to ban single-use plastics, end the shark fin trade, make rebuilding depleted fish populations the law, improve the way fisheries are managed and protect marine habitat. We work with civil society, academics, fishers, Indigenous Peoples and the federal government to return Canada’s formerly vibrant oceans to health and abundance. By restoring Canada’s oceans, we can strengthen our communities, reap greater economic and nutritional benefits and protect our future. Find out more at www.oceana.ca.