A new population estimate released by the New England Aquarium indicates the population of North Atlantic right whale declined by another 8% between 2019 and 2020 with only 336 individuals estimated to remain. The species is sometimes referred to as the “urban whale” given its remaining habitat lies along the busy eastern seaboards of the US east coast and Atlantic Canada. After what appeared to be a slow but promising rebound in the early 2000’s, the population began rapidly declining around 2010 due to human impacts.
As a changing climate shifted the tiny zooplankton prey of right whales, the whales moved into new feeding areas void of protections from vessel strikes and accidental entanglements, their two biggest threats. At the same time, females who used more energy to travel to find food, or suffered from the additional stress of being entangled, had fewer calves. As a result, the number of whales dying surpassed the number being born to the population.
These latest figures do not account for the 18 calves born during the 2021 calving season. Sadly, one calf died of complications during its birth and another was struck and killed by a passing vessel. The calf’s mom was also injured during the collision and is not expected to survive. In addition, 2 other right whales were killed or seriously injured by entanglements in 2021.
“We have an obligation to help recover this species, not just for their own survival, but for ours too.” - Regina Asmutis-Silvia
“This latest population figure is not what we were hoping for but we still have hope. We just had a year where more right whale calves were born than the three previous years combined showing that the species isn’t giving up and that we can’t give up on them” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, WDC-NA Executive Director. Large Whales, including the North Atlantic right whale play an integral role in the health of the marine ecosystem by helping to produce half the earth’s oxygen, sustaining fish stocks, and fighting climate change. Asmutis-Silvia went on to say “we have an obligation to help recover this species, not just for their own survival, but for ours too”.
What is WDC doing to help right whales?
Petitioned NOAA to expand the vessel speed restriction in right whale habitats
Testing alternative fishing gear which will nearly eliminate entanglement risk
Training vessel operators to identify and report entangled whales and live right whale sightings
Inputting into monitoring and mitigation measures for offshore energy development
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