Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Nature of Conservation: Where are the North Atlantic right whale calves?

                                                                                                                                   Photograph Credit: Krill Carson

Hi! This is Ingrid Biedron again, and this week I'd like to highlight North Atlantic right whales.

No new North Atlantic right whale calves have been sighted this season. Usually right whale calves are seen in January and February in ocean waters from Georgia to Florida. On average, about 17 calves are born per year. 2017 was a tragic year for the North Atlantic right whale. At least 17 right whales were found dead, 12 in Canada and 5 in the United States (US).

Right whale fluking off Race Point, Provincetown, MA. Photograph credit: Krill Carson
Only about 450 North Atlantic right whales remain, and of those, less than 100 are breeding females. Although the right whale population grew in the 2000’s, in recent years, the population has been declining. Entanglement in lobster and snow crab gear and ship strikes in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada and along the east coast of the US are the main causes of mortality. An increasingly industrialized ocean, including ocean noise from oil and gas exploration, shipping, and development, and warming waters, could add stress to right whales, decreasing their immune system health and calving rates. The prospect of a year with no right whale births after a year of catastrophic number of right whale deaths is devastating for a species teetering on the edge of extinction.

Left side photograph of a right whale. Photograph credit: Krill Carson

Twenty years ago, the Vaquita, a porpoise species found in the Northern Gulf of California, with about 30 individuals remaining and a handful of fishing entanglements away from extinction, was in the same situation as the North Atlantic right whale. Twenty years from now, the right whale may already be extinct if we don’t act faster and more effectively to save them. Many people, scientists, government officials, environmentalists, fishermen and citizens are working hard to save the right whale. An international working group has formed to find science-based solutions and the New England Aquarium held a workshop on developing less dangerous fishing gear last month. The awareness and concern for the plight of the right whale are heartening and necessary to pull the species back from the brink of extinction. But they’re not enough.

Two right whales skim feeding in Cape Cod Bay.

Summer is coming, and right whales can’t take another year like last year. We must all act now to stop right whale deaths in Canada and the US. The US and Canadian governments, scientists, environmental NGOs, fishermen and public must find a way to slow down the ships and stop the entanglements now. The snow crab season starts in the coming months and we need action by then. If US senators and congresspeople and the Canadian government hear from their citizens that they want to save the right whale, that gives them the political cover they need to fight for the right whales.

If you want to help save the North Atlantic right whale you can! The first step is to tweet, call, email, write or visit your US senator or congresspeople, or if you live in Canada, your representative and Prime Minister Trudeau. There is still time to save the right whale, but we need to act now.