A NOAA ship reported the sighting of yet another carcass of an endangered North Atlantic right whale. This whale, found approximately 100 miles east of Cape Cod, is the 3rd known mortality in 2018, all of whom bore injuries consistent with entanglement in fishing gear. The news comes only one week after WDC, a federally appointed member of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, requested the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) consider additional measures toward reducing right whale deaths from accidental entanglements in gear.
Sadly, this latest mortality brings the total number of deaths in the past 18 months to 20, a devastating impact to a species in decline due to human causes. Entanglements in fishing gear and vessels trikes are the leading threats to the survival of the species. These threats appear to be on the rise as a changing climate has altered the travel patterns of right whales as they search for prey. According to a technical memo released by NOAA, an encounter with fishing gear is the most frequent cause of documented right whale serious injuries and deaths in recent years. The odds of an entanglement event are now increasing by 6.3% per year. The report goes on to say that there has been no confirmed case of natural mortality in adult right whales in the past several decades.
“We know that shippers and fishers are not intentionally killing right whales but it will not be an accident if they go extinct because we didn’t take action quickly enough” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director of WDC’s North American office. “Modifying fishing gear and slowing ships down can not only save lives, it can save a species.”
WDC and its partners are asking for its US supporters to contact their member of Congress (Representatives and Senators) and ask them co-sponsor the 2018 SAVE Right Whales Act (S. 3038/H.R. 6060). The bill would authorize $5 million/year over a 10 year period to fund critical research and new technologies to reduce human risks to North Atlantic right whale research. These funds could help develop and provide new fishing gear technologies which will reduce the risk of entanglement while still allowing commercial fisheries to operate and develop measures that will reduce the risk of a vessel striking and killing a right whale.
Since its incorporation in 2005, WDC’s North American office has implemented a program specifically dedicated to the continued survival of the endangered North Atlantic right whale, a project which the Patagonia Outdoor Clothing and Gear company has helped to support since 2010.