Oceana Says Government’s “Gross Negligence” Responsible for  Rising Death Toll of Critically Endangered Right Whales - Oceana USA

Oceana Says Government’s “Gross Negligence” Responsible for  Rising Death Toll of Critically Endangered Right Whales

A one-year-old North Atlantic right whale is dead off Georgia

Press Release Date: February 15, 2024



Megan Jordan, Tami von Isakovics | Blue Wagon Group | email: mjordan@oceana.org, tami@bluewagongroup.com | tel: 202.868.4061, 415-225-7284

In response to the new North Atlantic right whale found dead off Georgia, Oceana released the following statements:

Gib Brogan, campaign director at Oceana in the United States: 

“Let’s call this what it is: gross negligence by our government leaders. Another dead North Atlantic right whale on our shores – this time off Georgia – is an outrage. These whales should be living at least 70 years and not killed at age one, like this whale. While we don’t know the cause of death at this time, our East Coast shores have become the graveyard for a critically endangered species dying from human causes and the deaths and injuries keep adding up. How many more North Atlantic right whales will die before President Biden and Secretary Raimondo finally release increased protections like the updated vessel speed rule they’re sitting on? 

Our government has the responsibility to solve the top threats to North Atlantic right whales: boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. The government knows what it needs to do to save them, so why aren’t President Biden and Secretary Raimondo doing anything? At this very moment, NOAA’s proposal including science-based recommendations to update the existing vessel speed rule is sitting on Secretary Raimondo’s desk gathering dust. 

The ironic timing of NOAA’s current ‘Whale Week’ when another critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is found dead speaks for itself. These whales do not need dead-end government meetings and cute publicity campaigns – they need immediate government action now for increased protections in the water. Step up now, President Biden and Secretary Raimondo, to implement and properly enforce the proposed vessel speed rule before your legacies are tainted with the eradication of a critically endangered species on your watch.”

Kim Elmslie, campaign director at Oceana in Canada:

“This is the second death of a young North Atlantic right whale this year. With just 356 of these whales left in the ocean, each loss is devastating for their recovery and brings them closer to extinction. As of today, a shocking 38 North Atlantic right whales have died since 2017, and immediate action is needed for their survival. The solution is sustained, robust measures to protect these whales. To prevent ship strikes, the Canadian and U.S. governments must ensure vessel slowdowns are permanent, mandatory, and in place across right whales’ full migration route. To prevent fishing gear entanglements, transitioning to ropeless and on-demand gear will allow fishing to continue without putting whales at risk and safeguard access to lucrative international seafood markets, as required under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.”

In 2022, NOAA proposed new vessel speed regulations to address the ongoing threat of boat strikes affecting North Atlantic right whales. Final changes to the existing rules have still not been released.  

There are only around 356 of these critically endangered whales left in the world, including only around 70 breeding females. Multiple studies show that slowing large boats to 10 knots reduces a North Atlantic right whale’s risk of death by boat collision by 80% to 90%. 

In the U.S. southeast, mandatory slow zones are in place from November through April to protect North Atlantic right whale mothers as they travel to the warmer waters to calve. These slow zones require boats 65 feet and greater to travel at speeds of 10 knots or less. Unfortunately, they are frequently ignored, putting mothers and their new calves at risk.   


North Atlantic right whales were a frequent target of whalers as 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 kilometres) 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.     

Entanglements in fishing gear used to catch lobster, crab, and other species is another 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% 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.