Saturday, May 5, 2018

Where are the North Atlantic right whale babies?

right whale
Photo credit: NECWA
No North Atlantic right whale calves were born in 2018. At least none were seen in the southeast waters off South Carolina, Florida and Georgia, the only known calving grounds for this species. In 2017, only five calves were born, down from counts of 15 to more than 35 between 2001 and 2011.
Maybe the right whale moms weren’t healthy enough or well-nourished enough to give birth to and nurse a calf, saving their energy for a year when they and the calves would be more likely to survive. Maybe the stress and physical wear from entanglements in fishing line has increased the time right whale mothers need to wait after raising one baby to have another. Maybe we didn’t see them. Whatever the case, this is bad for the right whale’s future. Since 1986, when researchers began counting the number of calves each year, there has never been a year with no calves.

To read more about right whales, click HERE for a short review by Dr. Scott Krauss from the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, at the New England Aquarium. 
                                                                           
Photo credit:NECWA
The total number of adult female North Atlantic right whales that can breed is less than 100. Imagine if there were less than 100 women left on the planet that could have babies. Our species would be facing extinction, which is exactly what the right whales are facing.

The good news is that lots of people, scientists, fishermen, politicians, lawmakers, and the pubic want to save the North Atlantic right whale. The US government requires that fishermen and ships follow many measures to reduce right whale entanglements and ship strikes. However, one right whale already died in US waters this year from entanglement, which is one whale too many.

The US government needs to continue working with fishermen and the shipping industry to develop and implement industry practices that fully protect the right whale. Solutions are being developed which will drastically increase right whale protections while continuing to allow businesses to keep operating.

Photo credit: NECWA
One of these solutions is ropeless fishing gear, which would allow the lobster and crab fisheries to retrieve their traps using an acoustic release system. Another area of gear development is using rope that is weaker than current ropes. Research shows that entanglements in these ropes are less deadly than those that occur with normal rope. Less rope in the water will help all marine organisms, including other whale species, seals, and turtles that could be caught in fishing rope. The commercial lobster industry, NGOs, scientists, and technology companies are working together to develop this gear on a commercial scale.

To take action to help save the North Atlantic right whale, YOU can call/write/twitter/snapchat/e-mail etc. your Senators and Congresspeople and ask them to:

Support funding for testing and implementation of ropeless fishing gear and weak breaking rope, including funds to help fishermen buy the best available whale safe gear.

Provide permits to fishermen to test whale safe gear, and once whale safe gear is ready to implement on a commercial scale, permit ropeless fishing in all fishing areas, including both state and federal areas.

Require all fishermen to use the best available whale safe gear.

Maintain and expand ship speed regulations in areas where right whales are found.

Protect the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, and other environmental laws which provide legal protection for ocean resources.

Photo credit: NECWA
North Atlantic right whales have returned from the brink of extinction before. After they were whaled, only a few hundred individuals remained. They might be able to recover again, but they need our help and they need it now. If another 17 North Atlantic right whales die in 2018, their risk of going extinct will be even higher.

Right whales face stress, injury, and mortality from a range of industrial activities, including oil and gas exploration and development, wind turbine construction, military exercises, changing ocean conditions, ship strikes, and entanglements. Up to 85% of right whale mortalities from 2010-2015 were from entanglements. Fortunately, humans can directly reduce one of the greatest threats to right whales – by getting the ropes out of the water. The solutions already exist, we just need to refine, require, and implement them. If you want to help, you can – exercise democracy and tell your representatives on Capitol Hill what’s on your mind.

Let’s celebrate the summer by helping to save the whales,

Ingrid

                                                                                             Photo credit: Ingrid Biedron