Saving the North Atlantic Right Whale - North AmericaDon't fail our whale
(Washington, D.C. – February 16, 2022) – As the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale faces mounting human-driven threats from collisions with fast-moving ships and entanglement in commercial fishing gear, new bipartisan legislation seeks immediate action to save the species. Led in the Senate by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and in the House by Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA-6), the Right Whale Coexistence Act would authorize $15 million annually over the next decade to support research and development grants for projects designed to significantly reduce the impacts of human activities on North Atlantic right whales.
“Right whale migratory routes run right along the North American coastline—one of our oceans’ most industrialized areas—where commercial fishing gear poses lethal threats from entanglement. New technologies in the fishing industry hold the promise of protecting whales from such entanglements in rope while supporting fishermen livelihoods,” said Kathleen Collins, Marine Conservation Campaign Manager, IFAW. “We are all eager to find sustainable long-term solutions to save this species, and the Right Whale Coexistence Act provides a vital, continued source of funding to develop these technologies and create a future where right whales can thrive.”
Entanglement in fishing gear can lead to slow and painful death. Entangled whales suffer from chronic stress and physical pain leading to decreased reproduction rates and a recent study showed that 85% of North Atlantic right whales have experienced entanglement at least once in their lifetime. Ropeless fishing gear—the deployment of gear without fixed vertical buoy ropes in the water column—is a solution that both addresses an immediate survival problem for right whales while simultaneously supporting the fishing industry, allowing it to proceed uninterrupted. The introduction and passage of the Right Whale Coexistence Act will play a key role in helping to truly provide the safe passage so desperately needed by right whales currently on the precipice of extinction.
“Despite ongoing efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales, the species has struggled to recover, with fewer than 340 whales currently remaining,” said Sen. Booker. “I’m proud to introduce this bicameral legislation that will fund a collaborative and comprehensive approach between the public and private sectors to help protect this highly endangered and iconic species.”
“The New England coast is an important area for the North Atlantic right whales to forage and feed. Our coastal communities, in turn, depend on the whales to support a healthy marine ecosystem,” said Congressman Seth Moulton. “This legislation will create new opportunities to save these critically-endangered animals. We can’t let another species go extinct on our watch.”
While the species is showing some improvement with 13 newborn whales spotted this year, it still faces very low reproduction and high mortality rates. There are an estimated 336 North Atlantic right whales remaining in the world, of which fewer than 100 are reproductively active females. In the last four years alone, 47 North Atlantic right whales have either died or have sustained injuries so severe they are presumed to have died. At least 70% of those deaths have resulted from either entanglement or vessel strikes, the two main threats preventing the population’s recovery. Both of these threats are human driven. Scientists estimate that, without intervention to stop both entanglements and ship strikes, the species will reach a point of no return in five years and could become extinct within our lifetimes.
IFAW is working directly with fishermen to advance pilot testing of ropeless gear and to promote immediate on-the-water solutions that address head-on the key threats to right whales. Urgent action is needed as well as the perseverance to commit to a long-term solution to ensure the survival of this critical species.
About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans, and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate, and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organizations, and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish. See how at ifaw.org.