North Atlantic Right Whales
Zero Calves This Year
Right Whale Mother and Calf
Photograph by Peter Chadwick
No mother-calf pairs of North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena japonica) off the coasts of Georgia and Florida have been seen by spotters, causing researchers to voice concern about the critically endangered species. No births were recorded, the first ever since survey flights started in1989.
Last year had 12 deaths: eight whale deaths in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, at least four off Cape Cod, and only five documented births. Out of a total population of 450, these numbers are alarming. Under current conditions, right whales are two decades away from extinction.
Deaths occur mainly from ship strikes and entanglement in nets. Food limitation may have the whales looking for high densities of their food and not finding it.Their preferred food is zooplankton.
If the females don't get enough to eat over the winter, they won't be able to support nursing their calves. They have to build up a huge amount of fat, and they cannot do that under the circumstances.
A century ago almost every right whale in the Atlantic had been slaughtered by humans. The dangers have altered. Climate change seems to have affected their food source. Sewage fills their habitat with pollution. There is noise from construction and seismic tests, all of which hamper the whales to live and reproduce.
Over the last three decades, an average of 17 right whales were born every year, until 2017 which was a particularly bad year as described above.
In decades past, they received protection from the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act which helped them get their numbers up to 482 in 2010. But then the population started to decline and it is down to 450. Because they are or were rare in Canada, few protections were in place at that time.
What Can Be Done
Speed restrictions on ships would help as many bodies show signs of trama caused by a ship collision. Lobster fishermen are working on nets that would break apart easily and hopefully would lessen the gruesome deaths caused by entanglement. Canada is putting more protections in place such as area closures, speed restrictions and a $167 million investment on endangered whale species.
Working together, hopefully, we can have a more positive outcome.