Dear North Atlantic right whales,
You have given me so much...
You taught me to be patient - you were the first species I saw when I first started whale watching. Your 20 minute dives taught me to be patient and how to teach passengers about whales they couldn’t see.
You literally made me feel lucky to be alive - as we approached you to gently lay an ultrasound on your back, you rolled, half your fluke hovering over me, but you didn’t react to the sound of the engine screaming into reverse and I am still here.
You taught me to persevere - it took 6 years to get a ship strike speed rule in place temporarily and another 5 years to make it permanent so that you would be protected along the US east coast. 11 years total, but it was worth it.
You reminded me never to say never - on a cold January morning I saw you and your brand new calf in Cape Cod Bay, over a thousand miles from your “known” calving habitat, reminding me that anything is possible.
You proved to me how much I need you - your work as the ocean gardener helps to fertilize the waters of your habitat giving life to the phytoplankton that give me air to breathe.
You showed me what we did to you.
I gasped at the gaping wound around your tail as the rope cut into your flesh when Dr. Stormy Mayo made the first ever attempt to disentangle a right whale. I held the line in the small boat as we ripped the line from your skin and opened wounds we could only hope would heal.
I am so sorry.
You have given me so much and what have "we" given you?
Today, Canada has announced your sixth preventable death - the fourth within 48 hours. 26 of you have died in the past two years now, but only 12 of you have been born.
“We” say it’s not on purpose, but “we” aren’t really making the efforts we need to for you to survive.
“We” haven’t demanded fishing without ropes, or ships slowing down throughout your habitat.
In fact, “we” haven’t even really looked for you.
As “we” rage about the deaths in Canada, “we” ignore the fact that most of you are not there and “we” aren’t looking.
“We” aren’t trying to find out where else you might be hurting, where else you might need help.
“We” need to do better.
“We” are the voters, the advocates, the people of the US and Canada who have a say in your future.
“We” can ask for funding for surveys, “we” can demand that ship speed restrictions be implemented, and “we” can create fishing gear that does not risk your survival.
“We” are the difference between your extinction and your recovery.
I am sad, I am angry, I am hurt, I am literally in tears…. But I am not giving up.
You have given me so much and I am not ready to say good-bye.
With love and fierce determination,
Photo credit: Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources/NOAA Permit 15488; Whale and Dolphin Conservation