We’re saving one of the world’s largest and most endangered animals.
North Atlantic right whales migrate in waters along the east coast of North America, one of the most industrialized areas of ocean in the world. During this journey they face two main threats to their survival, both as a result of human activities: vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. Vessel strikes are often a death sentence for right whales, killing them within days of injury. Entanglement, on the other hand, leads to a slow and painful death that can last for months. Struggling under the weight of fishing gear, entangled right whales suffer from chronic stress, physical pain, and the inability to move freely, leading to decreased reproduction rates.
Since 2017, 31 right whales have died with another 10 presumed dead, representing 10% of the known population. In the past 4 years, only 22 calves were born in total, which is well below the approx. 20-30 needed annually for the species to have a chance at survival. With only an estimated 400 individuals left in the world – and only a quarter of those being reproductive females – the North Atlantic right whale is critically endangered. The death of even one whale could be the difference between species recovery and extinction.
Through education, advocacy, and grassroots engagement, IFAW has initiated a multifaceted campaign in the U.S. and Canada to drive public awareness and push for regulatory change. We are also working collaboratively alongside industry to promote innovative solutions to save right whales.
We have secured ship speed limits in critical habitat areas, and instituted a responsibility program, in partnership with Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, for increasing compliance on ship speed reductions for international shipping companies. We also developed Whale Alert, a situational awareness mobile app that determines and alerts vessel operator on the presence of right whales.
Promising new technologies that aim to decrease the risk of right whale entanglement include ropeless fishing – the deployment of gear without fixed vertical buoy ropes in the water column – which has the potential to dramatically reduce or eliminate right whale entanglements entirely, while allowing fishermen to continue their livelihoods.
At IFAW we are working in direct collaboration with fishermen to increase critical at-sea pilot testing of ropeless fishing gear technologies. Through policy and advocacy initiatives, we are seeking funding through bipartisan legislation, such as the SAVE Right Whales Act, to support the much needed research, development, and implementation of real solutions that can both maintain a sustainable fishery and protect right whales.
We are also promoting “whale-safe” seafood and pursuing a certification program that will create a marketplace for sustainably caught lobster that is harvested in gear that does not harm right whales.
And, we have our own hands-on response team, Marine Mammal Rescue Team, that is ready to intervene in case a whale is spotted entangled or in poor health.