New Estimate Finds North Atlantic Right Whale Population Continuing to Decline
Press Release Date: October 24, 2022
A new estimate from the North Atlantic right whale consortium, released today, finds that the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale population has dropped 2.3%, from 348 in 2020 to 340 in 2021. This latest estimate precedes the consortium’s annual meeting and confirms the dire situation facing North Atlantic right whales. With the release of these new estimates, Oceana is urgently calling on the National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Transport Canada to take immediate action to save these whales from extinction.
In response to the announcement, Oceana released the following statements:
“Every year that passes without meaningful government action is devastating for the survival of North Atlantic right whales. Fisheries, politicians, and the U.S. government need to work together to enact solutions to save this critically endangered species from inching closer to extinction. Given the inadequate safeguards that are in place, the new population and mortality estimates for North Atlantic right whales are sadly predictable and frustrating. As we have consistently done in the past and do again today, we’re calling on the federal government to step in and establish real protections for these whales and create an actionable plan with solutions to help fisheries continue to thrive — both are possible,” said Gib Brogan, campaign director at Oceana in the United States.
“Another year of population decline is devastating for critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. To save this species from extinction caused by human activity, the Canadian government must urgently transition to a permanent, predictable, and transparent approach that can adapt to changing circumstances. We must prioritize their protection before it’s too late and find ways for humans and marine life to coexist,” said Kim Elmslie, campaign director at Oceana Canada.
North Atlantic right whales were named for being the “right” whale to hunt because they were often found near shore, swim slowly, and tend to float when killed. They were aggressively hunted, and their population dropped from peak estimates of up to 21,000 to perhaps fewer than 100 by the 1920s. After whaling of North Atlantic right whales was banned in 1935, their population increased to as many as 483 individuals in 2010. Unfortunately, that progress has reversed.
Entanglement in fishing gear used to catch lobster, crab, and other species is a leading cause of North Atlantic right whale deaths. Around one-quarter of the population is entangled in fishing gear from the U.S. and Canada each year, and about 85% of whales have been entangled at least once. Ropes have been seen wrapped around their mouths, fins, tails, and bodies, which slow them down; make it difficult to swim, reproduce, and feed; and can cause death. The lines cut into the whales’ flesh, leading to life-threatening infections, and are so strong that they have severed fins and tails and cut into bone.
Collisions with vessels is another leading cause of North Atlantic right whale injury and death. They are slow, swimming around 6 miles (or 9.5 kilometers) per hour, usually near the water’s surface. They are also dark in color and lack a dorsal fin, making them very difficult to spot. Studies have found that the speed of a vessel is a major factor in vessel-related collisions with North Atlantic right whales. At high speeds, vessels cannot maneuver to avoid them, and they swim too slowly to be able to move out of the way. This puts them at great risk of being struck, which can cause deadly injuries from blunt-force trauma or cuts from propellers.
To learn more about Oceana’s binational campaign to save North Atlantic right whales, click here.