North Atlantic Right Whales Continue to Struggle

Right whale breaching. / Permit 15488

Several weeks back, I took a quick road trip to the outer coast of Cape Cod. The Cape Cod National Seashore is an awesome place to view whales from the beach, even without the aid of binoculars. It’s a great experience if you don’t have three-plus hours to spend on a whale watch.

One species you may be able to see from shore even in early spring is the North Atlantic right whale. These whales have been showing up in large groups off Cape Cod since February.

Photo credit: Regina Asmutis-Silvia/WDC

Commercial whaling brought North Atlantic right whales to the brink of extinction in the 20th century. Today, they remain critically endangered with a population of only around 500 individuals.

North Atlantic right whales migrate annually from their feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy to their calving grounds off the coasts of Florida and Georgia. Unfortunately, the migration route is fraught with man-made perils, including vessel strikes, pollution, and entanglements. Check out this video of biologists successfully disentangling one of these animals off the Georgia coast earlier this year.

Unfortunately, this has not been a good year for North Atlantic right whales. In a recent radio interview, Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo of the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown acknowledged that only 3 right whale calves have been observed so far this year. “It’s a frighteningly low number,” he remarked. What makes this number more significant is that right whale researchers recorded 4 right whale mortalities in 2016. As a result, their recovery remains on the edge of a knife.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation works alongside the Center for Coastal Studies and other organizations in New England on initiatives to enhance protections for North Atlantic right whales. Last year, they persuaded the federal government to expand critical habitat protections for the species under the Endangered Species Act.

Without the dedicated work of WDC and other organizations, this species may disappear forever. Please share this article and consider donating to our #trek4whales campaign to support their efforts. 100% of the proceeds will go to the organization directly. Thank you!

CCS image, NOAA permit #19315