Saving the North Atlantic Right WhaleRight whales can be strangled from the inside out
The critically endangered North Atlantic right whale population was dealt a devastating blow in 2017. Seventeen right whale mortalities were documented by teams in the US and Canada. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has led necropsy efforts for all of the five 2017 US cases in partnership with NOAA and stranding agencies along the East Coast.
Unfortunately, this devastating mortality trend is continuing.
The first North Atlantic right whale mortality of 2018 was discovered off the coast of Virginia this week. The US Coast Guard, NOAA, Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center and others mounted an effort to re-locate the whale, recover the carcass, and tow the whale to shore for necropsy (animal autopsy). Three of IFAW’s marine mammal experts, Misty Niemeyer, Kristy Volker and veterinarian Sarah Sharp, deployed to Virginia to assist NOAA, Virginia Aquarium and partners with the necropsy.
The whale, an immature female approximately 39 feet in length, appears to have been wrapped in line prior to her death. The team determined, based on this evidence, the whale was alive and swimming when it encountered the line. Preliminary observations also suggest the cause of death to be due to entanglement.
“The last 10 months have been devastating for the North Atlantic right whale population. We had hoped that in 2018 we would see a slowing of the decline, but with the first dead North Atlantic right whale discovered off the coast of Virginia this week we now know that is not the case. Three members of our team deployed to be part of the multi-agency necropsy effort to determine the cause of death and circumstances related to this event,” Brian Sharp, Program Manager, International Fund for Animal Welfare.
“With the news of yet another dead North Atlantic right whale, we are now at a near crisis point for this endangered species. We, collectively, need to take immediate action to protect the future of the North Atlantic right whale. Whales play an integral role in the health of our oceans, which directly impacts the health of the planet,” Misty Niemeyer, Necropsy Coordinator, International Fund for Animal Welfare.
North Atlantic right whale information:
1 NOAA Fisheries GARFO Press Release, https://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/mediacenter/2018/01/28_january_28_update.html
2 Pettis, H.M. et al. 2017. North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium annual report card. Report to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, October 2017 https://www.narwc.org/uploads/1/1/6/6/116623219/2017_report_cardfinal.pdf
3 Daoust, P.-Y., Couture, E.L., Wimmer, T., and Bourque, L. 2017. Incident Report: North Atlantic Right Whale Mortality Event in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, 2017. Collaborative Report Produced by: Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, Marine Animal Response Society, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 256 pp. https://www.cwhc-rcsf.ca/right_whales.php