Transport Canada can do more to protect critically endangered right whales in the Cabot Strait
Vessel slowdowns must be mandatory to help save right whales from the brink of extinction
Press Release Date: February 1, 2022
Media kit with full report and visual assets can be found here.
OTTAWA — Oceana Canada’s latest report, Protecting Right Whales from Ship Strikes, reveals more can be done to reduce the threat of ship strikes for the last remaining North Atlantic right whales and to halt their extinction. The report finds that most vessels did not comply with a two-year trial voluntary slowdown, put in place in 2020 by Transport Canada in a key migratory route, the Cabot Strait, meant to protect them.
Oceana Canada’s analysis, which used Global Fishing Watch satellite data, found that over the two years, on average, 68 per cent of vessels travelled at speeds above the 10-knot voluntary limit and 43 per cent travelled at speeds faster than 12 knots. When vessels travel at slower speeds, whales have a greater chance of surviving a strike.
Research shows that mandatory, season-long speed restrictions of 10 knots or less can reduce the lethality of a collision by 86 per cent. Transport Canada must do all it can to protect right whales by making the slowdown mandatory and shifting to a permanent, protection regime. With only around 330 North Atlantic right whales left in the world and only 70 breeding-aged females, these whales are on the brink of extinction.
Mandatory measures have been shown to work in other areas of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In 2021, Transport Canada identified 9,349 vessels in the mandatory slowdown zones with only six per cent travelling at speeds above the required 10-knot limit. Oceana in the U.S. found 88 per cent of vessels complied with a mandatory 10-knot speed restriction area off Block Island, Rhode Island.
Ship strikes are a major threat to North Atlantic right whales. Since 2017, 21 whales have died in Canadian waters. And of the 10 for which a cause is known, eight died due to collisions with vessels.
“Transport Canada must do everything possible to save this fragile population of only about 330 whales from extinction, including making the slowdown in the Cabot Strait mandatory,” said Kim Elmslie, Campaign Director for Oceana Canada.
Climate change, resulting in warming waters, has forced the zooplankton whales feed on into cooler waters and the whales have followed, putting them on a deadly collision course with vessels in the busy Gulf of St. Lawrence area.
Oceana Canada is urgently calling on the government to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales in a new way.
“We are calling on the government to create a permanent management regime for these critically endangered whales. We can and must change the fate of the North Atlantic right whale. This crisis can no longer be treated as an annual emergency,” said Elmslie.
Oceana Canada is calling on Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to prioritize the following actions:
- Make the Cabot Strait slowdown mandatory and season-long; set a compliance target similar to what is working elsewhere, and have it start before whales arrive in Canadian waters.
- Transition to a management approach that is permanent, provides certainty around decision-making, is inclusive of all stakeholders, is fully transparent, and is adaptable to changing whale behaviours.
- Do not reduce or weaken any of the protection measures that were put in place in 2021.
For information about the analysis and to learn more, visit: Oceana.ca/Cabot-Strait.
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 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.