Right Whales Slide Toward Extinction

The most recent issues of Right Whale News (Volume 25; Number 4) and the 2017 right whale status Report Card are sobering to say the least. The litany of bad news for North Atlantic right whales is relentless.

Right Whale News 25:4, November 2017

2017 NARWC Report Card

16 whales are known to have died, primarily from ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. That represents 3% of the population in one year.

The birth of new whales was extremely low this year: only 5 births, compared to the average of 20.

There were no new mothers observed this year, and there are only 100 breeding females.

With the addition of this year’s data, the average calving interval has also increased, from 4 years to 10 years.

The official estimate of the North Atlantic population dropped this year from 529 to 451, because the method of estimating had to be changed due to the fact that it is becoming harder to find and observe the population. Until a few years ago, a large portion of the population appeared every year in the Bay of Fundy, so the total population could be reliably estimated based on those observations. That is no longer true, and the newer method shows the total population has been declining since 2010.

This all adds up to very bad news for right whales. At current rates of mortality, right whales could be functionally extinct (no more breeding females) in twenty years. The biggest threat to right whales now is entanglement in fishing gear. Human demand for fish and lobster and crabs is running head-on into the survival of North Atlantic right whales. Over the years, many attempts have been made to introduce new gear that is less dangerous to whales, but that costs money. Fish abundance is declining, which means greater fishing effort is needed to catch the same number of fish.

But right whales are also threatened by ship strikes, by ocean pollution, by noise pollution and by global warming. There is no easy way to save the right whales. Doing so requires fundamental changes in human behavior. We have to care as much about them as we do about ourselves, and be willing to change how we live, in order that they may continue to live.

More Dead Right Whales

As of October, the number of dead right whales found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has risen to twelve, including four females. An additional three have been found in U.S. waters. At least six were hit by ships and at least one entangled in crab-fishing gear.

For those interested, the full Incident Report is available here:

Incident Report: North Atlantic Right Whale Mortality Event in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, 2017

See my previous posts on this:

At Least Three of Seven Dead Right Whales Due to Humans

‘Unprecedented’ Loss of Right Whales

At Least 3 of 7 Dead Right Whales Due to Humans

Seven North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) have been found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the last month. Two probably from being hit by ships and one from entanglement in fishing gear. The cause of death in the other four is not known at this time.

North Atlantic right whales are already highly endangered, and the loss of even one, especially a female, increases the risk of extinction. It’s very hard to do piecemeal protection for these animals. When ship strikes were rising in the Bay of Fundy, a lengthy regulatory process led to moving the shipping lanes through the Bay to avoid right whale areas. That was a success, but soon thereafter, the whales abandoned the Bay of Fundy due to lack of food there and seem to have moved north. Now we are seeing the same problem in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

We are not dealing with one isolated problem. Global shipping, increased fishing effort to secure a dwindling supply of fish, and global warming all contribute. Here’s what I see as the bottom line: are we willing to radically alter our way of life (e.g. dramatically reduce global shipping, with all of the economic consequences of that) to allow creatures like right whales to survive? Or are we too committed to our own ways to allow these creatures to live?

Unfortunately, I think I know the answer to that question. We need a spiritual revolution, a radical change in our most fundamental beliefs and behaviors. But I don’t know what it will take to bring that about.

Experts investigate recent deaths of six endangered North Atlantic right whales

 

‘Unprecedented’ Loss of Right Whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

This is tragic news for this extremely vulnerable and magnificent species. Right whales have abandoned the Bay of Fundy due to lack of food there and are apparently moving north. What is going on in the Gulf of St. Lawrence?

‘Unprecedented event’: 6 North Atlantic right whales found dead in June
‘The loss of even one animal is huge with animals with a population this small,’ says marine biologist.

Read the CBC Article…

Researchers from the Marine Animal Response Society examine one of the dead right whales. (Marine Animal Response Society)

Right Whales in Cape Cod Bay

Large numbers of north Atlantic right whales, more than 60, have been seen in Cape Cod Bay in recent days. They normally appear in large numbers in mid April, so like everything else in New England this spring they are running a couple weeks late. But in this case late is definitely better than never. It’s a sign that the population is probably faring okay despite the lack of food in their traditional summer grounds in the Bay of Fundy, and a sure sign that spring has finally come to New England.

Articles:

http://wellfleet.wickedlocal.com/article/20150502/NEWS/150509592

http://www.capecodtoday.com/article/2015/05/05/224342-Numbers-grow-whales-continue-feast-Cape-Cod-Bay

An almost-real-time map of right whale sightings:

http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/psb/surveys/