Oceana Says ‘Blood on NOAA’s Hands’ as Critically Endangered Whale Found Dead from Brutal Boat Strike - Oceana USA

Oceana Says ‘Blood on NOAA’s Hands’ as Critically Endangered Whale Found Dead from Brutal Boat Strike

The death comes 3 weeks after NOAA rejected Oceana’s emergency petition demanding immediate protections for North Atlantic right whales from boat strikes

Press Release Date: February 16, 2023

Location: Washington


Megan Jordan | email: mjordan@oceana.org | tel: 202.868.4061

WASHINGTON — According to news reports, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) spokesperson confirmed that a 20-year-old male North Atlantic right whale found dead off Virginia Beach this week died from blunt-force traumatic injuries consistent with those of a boat strike. This comes just weeks after Oceana submitted an emergency request to NOAA to protect these critically endangered whales from speeding vessels. Oceana is calling out NOAA for failing to do their job and demands that the agency immediately issue updated regulations to protect around 340 remaining North Atlantic right whales from boat strikes. 

In December, Oceana filed an emergency rulemaking petition with the Department of Commerce and NOAA, demanding immediate action to implement protective measures until the updated final rule to better protect North Atlantic right whales from boat collisions is in place. In January, NOAA rejected the petition and refused to take necessary action to protect North Atlantic right whales from boat strikes and continued to use voluntary speed zones that the agency itself knows are ineffective. 

Oceana is releasing the following statement from Oceana Campaign Director Gib Brogan:

“There is blood on NOAA’s hands for failing to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. We are outraged that yet another North Atlantic right whale has become the victim of a boat strike weeks after Oceana demanded emergency protections from speeding vessels—and was denied.  What makes this more infuriating is that it was entirely predictable and preventable. The blunt force trauma this whale experienced must have been excruciatingly painful and what’s worse: it was avoidable. Our government is moving at a snail’s pace to put effective safeguards in place that lessen the risk of boat collisions with North Atlantic right whales, despite the crisis that is unfolding off our shores.

NOAA knows what they need to do to prevent deaths like this and has both the authority and responsibility to create and enforce mandatory speed zones. One of Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and National Marine Fisheries Services Assistant Administrator Janet Coit’s job responsibilities is to timely and fully comply with the law to protect this critically endangered species and they are failing to do so. Another whale is dead as a result of this delay. This is absolutely unacceptable and they need to be held accountable.”

Last year, NOAA proposed new vessel speed regulations to address the ongoing threats affecting North Atlantic right whales. Nearly 20,000 Oceana members and supporters displayed their support for the proposed regulations that are currently under review. Final changes to the existing rules are not expected until later this year.

There are only around 340 of these critically endangered whales left in the world, including around 80 breeding females. 

Multiple studies show that slowing boats to 10 knots reduces a North Atlantic right whale’s risk of death by boat collision by 80% to 90%.

“North Atlantic right whales weave through thousands of boats that travel in and out of ports up and down the eastern seaboard – directly in their migratory zone. Every day this rule is delayed pushes these whales closer to the brink of extinction,” Brogan added.


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.  

Collisions with boats is a 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 campaign to save North Atlantic right whales from extinction, please click here.