Right Whales Urgently Need Our Help!

Update 12/23/22: The sad but not surprising conclusion to this story is that the House passed the budget today. Very few news outlets even mentioned this issue. If people had known, If we had had some time to organize a campaign, we might have been able to get this rider out of the budget, because most people love whales. But with only a few hours notice, what could we do? North Atlantic right whales haven’t got much of a chance of surviving. They didn’t before, and now even less.

If you are looking for an array of things you can do to help whales, right whales and all whales, I have a page where I summarize many things we need to do:

What Can I do to Help the Whales?

A rider attached to the omnibus budget bill moving through the U.S. Senate, inserted at the insistence of the Maine delegation, is threatening North Atlantic right whales, again. I was going to write a complete summary of this issue, but the folks at NRDC already did a good job of it, so I am linking to their article instead:


And this one from the Washington Post fills in some of the political details:


With fewer than 400 individuals remaining, and fewer than 100 breeding females, North Atlantic right whales cannot afford to lose even one individual each year to entanglements or ship strikes. It is no exaggeration to say that this budget rider threatens the very existence of North Atlantic right whales.

Here’s another recent article about the toll entanglement takes on right whales:

North Atlantic right whale “Snow Cone” sighted entangled in new fishing gear and in extremely poor health

I have been following and teaching others about NA right whales for more than 20 years. Would the Maine delegation and Congress get away with this if they were threatening the more charismatic humpback whale?  I composed a piece of music about a decade ago for guitar and cello that we have occasionally performed called the Right Whale Mother’s Lament. That piece  has taken on new urgency.

I recognize that jobs are potentially at stake in Maine, but technology exists to move the Maine lobster industry, and other east coast fisheries, to ropeless gear that would be harmless to right whales. Some money for this has been allocated in the budget, but the six-year moratorium on requiring changes in gear is six years that the right whales simply cannot afford. It’s not a compromise, as Maine Sen. Susan Collins claims. It’s more likely to be a death sentence.

But the budget has not yet passed. It would take only a few Senators to stop this thing. Will they?

Update 12/22/22 2:18 PM: The bill passed the Senate 68-29, which raises the question why the Democrats even needed the votes of the two senators from Maine. I don’t think there is any chance this end-run around the Marine Mammal Protection Act can be removed in the House. Maybe this provision can be challenged in court? Not my area of expertise.

Right Whale Crisis

Two years ago I reported several times on the unprecedented deaths of right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Twelve were found dead over the course of that summer, mostly from ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear. This year is not much better. So far, six whales have been found dead, four of whom were breeding females. These losses are devastating for such an endangered population.

Again, the causes seem to be entanglements and ship strikes. Right whales have moved north in search of food as the north Atlantic Ocean waters get warmer and their cold-water prey moves north. In recent years they have appeared more often in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is heavily fished and heavily trafficked by ships moving in and out of the St. Lawrence seaway. It is not at all clear what can be done about any of this. I think many of us who love right whales and have been trying to protect them and educate others about them are feeling pretty powerless right now. Decades of protection work are falling apart because global heating is forcing the whales to leave protected areas and move into more dangerous areas.

These whales do not have decades more to wait for us to get it right. Slower ship speeds and altered shipping lanes and ropeless fishing trap technology can help, but I still maintain that the only solution is a wholesale change in human behavior and the human economy that demands limitless growth and global shipping and massive consumption of fossil fuels. But again, social change on that level would normally take generations, and the right whales do not have that kind of time. We haven’t given up, but the future of the North Atlantic right whale is looking very bleak right now.

You can follow this unfolding story in the gulf through the New England Aquarium’s right whale research team twitter feed.

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