Another North Atlantic Right Whale Dies as U.S. Government Delays Critical Protections  - Oceana Canada

Another North Atlantic Right Whale Dies as U.S. Government Delays Critical Protections 

While President Biden delays updates to the vessel speed rule, more North Atlantic right whales are dying from boat strikes  

Press Release Date: April 4, 2024

Contacts: Megan Jordan,, 703.401.3004  Vaishali Dassani,, +1 647.294.3335

Washington/Ottawa— Today the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said a boat strike was the likely cause of death for the most recent North Atlantic right whale (#1950) found dead off Virginia. She was last seen healthy with her newborn calf on February 16 off Florida, but this six-time mother was later found dead on March 30. The findings showed “catastrophic injuries with a dislocation of the whale’s spine and fractures to all vertebrae in the lower back… consistent with blunt force trauma from a vessel strike prior to death.” Aerial survey teams have not been able to locate the calf, and it is not expected to survive without its mother, which means two deaths are likely to result from this boat strike.

In response to the necropsy results, Oceana released the following statements:

Gib Brogan, campaign director at Oceana in the United States:
“The necropsy results may say another ‘boat strike,’ but at this point, it’s the Biden administration’s continued, unnecessary delays of critical protections that are responsible for this and other recent North Atlantic right whale deaths. Without the updated vessel speed rule, moms and calves are at greater risk during calving season because they spend more time at the water’s surface and are more prone to boat strikes. We’re seeing the tragic results of delayed protections, and this rising death toll is simply unacceptable. What’s worse: this boat strike will result in two deaths as its calf is too young to survive on its own. Both the mom and calf represented the future of this species, both tragedies were preventable, both are a huge loss to a species on the brink of extinction, and both deaths are on the hands of U.S. government leaders delaying needed protections. How many more North Atlantic right whales will wash up dead along the East Coast before President Biden finally releases the updated vessel speed rule?  President Biden: issue, implement, and properly enforce a strong vessel speed rule before bureaucracy drives North Atlantic right whales to extinction.”

Kim Elmslie, campaign director at Oceana in Canada:
“It is absolutely unacceptable to see the death of yet another North Atlantic right whale due to human causes – in this case a vessel strike. The loss of this right whale #1950 – a mother from the 2024 calving season – pushes this critically endangered species closer to extinction. Without a mother, her calf is likely to die too.

This death underscores the urgent need for the governments to do everything it can to protect these endangered animals. Permanent vessel slowdowns across right whales’ full migration route are required. A swift transition to ropeless and on-demand fishing gear is needed to protect whales from entanglements and simultaneously protect access to U.S. markets for lucrative Canadian fisheries.

We urgently call on decisionmakers to take swift and bold actions to protect these majestic animals and ensure their survival for generations to come.”

In 2022, NOAA proposed new vessel speed regulations to address the ongoing threat of boat strikes affecting North Atlantic right whales. Final changes to the existing rules have still not been released.

There are only around 356 of these critically endangered whales left in the world, including only around 70 breeding females. Multiple studies show that slowing large boats to 10 knots reduces a North Atlantic right whale’s risk of death by boat collision by 80% to 90%.

In the U.S. southeast, mandatory slow zones are in place from November through April to protect North Atlantic right whale mothers as they travel to the warmer waters to calve. Mothers and calves are at heightened risk during calving season because they spend more time at the water’s surface and are more prone to boat strikes. The slow zones require boats 65 feet and greater to travel at speeds of 10 knots or less. Unfortunately, they are frequently ignored, putting mothers and their new calves at risk.


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.

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. 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.

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.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-quarter of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 300 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, oil and plastic pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles, whales, and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit to learn more.

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