Saving the North Atlantic right whale - North AmericaDon't fail our whale
[Washington D.C. - February 2, 2024] Today, it was confirmed that the juvenile female North Atlantic right whale discovered near Joseph Sylvia State Beach on Martha’s Vineyard earlier this week suffered from a chronic entanglement. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries made the announcement as part of the preliminary necropsy findings. The necropsy of North Atlantic right whale #5120 was completed on February 1. From the necropsy, experts confirmed a chronic entanglement with deeply embedded rope in the tail and thin body condition. The necropsy showed no evidence of blunt force trauma. Cause of death is pending further histological and diagnostic testing of collected samples which can take weeks to complete. NOAA Fisheries will share more information as it is available.
In response, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) issued the following statements.
“In the hundreds of necropsies I have been a part of, this was one of the most heartbreaking I have led.” said Dr. Sarah Sharp, Animal Rescue Veterinarian, IFAW. “This young whale had a deeply embedded chronic entanglement in line. Her entanglement was first identified in 2022, meaning that for nearly half of her short life, she suffered from this painful condition.”
"The future of this critically endangered species is contingent upon healthy, reproductive females and the loss of a future mother is devastating,” said Kathleen Collins, Senior Campaign Manager, IFAW. “It is important to recognize that the path forward and this loss demands serious collaboration between industry, government, and stakeholders to prevent more mortalities. The consequences of inaction are permanent. Extinction is forever.”
- Marine experts with the IFAW, led by Dr. Sarah Sharp, have been leading the investigation into the cause of death of the whale. The team has been on-site since the early morning of Monday, January 29, and successfully conducted a full necropsy of the whale. This right whale, the only known calf of Squilla (#3720), was born during the 2021 calving season.
- Earlier this week, state law enforcement officials collected some of the rope that was entangled around the whale’s tail and turned it over to NOAA’s Office Law Enforcement. It is now being examined by gear experts.
- Entanglements typically lead to a slow and painful death. Entangled whales also suffer from chronic stress and immense physical pain, massively impacting their health and leading to decreased reproduction.
- IFAW advocates for the adoption of on-demand or “ropeless” fishing gear alongside of our fishermen and gear industry partners. This innovative gear drastically reduces the risk of entanglement for the right whale by removing vertical line connected to buoys from the water column. On-demand gear has been successfully trialed and ensures that fisherman can continue to make a living out on the water despite seasonal closures.
- IFAW-led research revealed that between 2003 and 2018, 88.4% of determinable North Atlantic right whale deaths were caused by vessel strikes and entanglement ,
- To protect right whales, the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan implements fishery closures during critical seasons to remove pot/trap gear from the water. On-demand (also called ropeless) gear is another solution – it reduces the threat of entanglement, while still allowing fishermen to access their livelihoods. IFAW advocates for the availability and use of this innovative gear during closures.
- This death comes during the North Atlantic right whale calving season with 17 calves being born to date.
- This death is particularly significant as the whale was discovered just days before the annual wide-scale seasonal closure of fishing grounds in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and surrounding federal waters that begin on February 1. During this time, early-adopters will be further advancing the solution to entanglements: on-demand technology.
- Since 2017, 9 right whales have been reported dead due to entanglement, with another 70 observed with serious injury or morbidity due to entanglement.
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