Study: Urgent Intervention Needed To Save Right Whales

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For Immediate Release: Jun 24, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

PEER calls for Fisheries Agency to Take Decisive Action

Washington, DC — A new study published last week underscores the urgency of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) taking decisive action to protect the North Atlantic right whale from extinction. North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered whales in the world, with a population numbering no more than four hundred and eleven.

The study, published in the scientific journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, reveals how humans are pushing the North Atlantic right whale to extinction. The study examined the cause of death for 70 dead right whales from 2003 to 2018 and found that over 88% of the deaths were attributable to ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. The study also found that right whale entanglement mortalities increased from 21% in the study period 1970 to 2002 to 51% from 2003 to 2018.

Despite these alarming statistics, the United States has failed to implement decisive measures to reduce entanglements of the right whale in fishing gear. Plans to implement regulations appear to have stalled due to opposition from some sectors of the fishing industry. This spring, PEER sought documents from NMFS regarding right whale entanglements. PEER received hundreds of pages of redacted documents, and virtually nothing indicating that NMFS was taking serious action to save the whales. Last week’s study stressed the need for swift action, stating, “These cumulative mortalities are also unsustainable at the population level, so urgent and aggressive intervention is needed to end anthropogenic mortality in this critically endangered species.”

“NMFS needs to act decisively to ensure that rope reduction regulations are in place by the end of the year. NMFS has failed to protect right whales because it is unwilling to upset the fishing industry,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former federal biologist and lawyer. “It is stunning that virtually every death of adult and juvenile animals is due to human activity. This makes it abundantly clear that it is totally within our power to save this species.”

The study also found that:

  • Death from entanglements in fishing gear is more prevalent than vessel strike deaths, highlighting the need for more regulations on the fishing industry;
  • There were no natural mortalities of juvenile and adult right whales – all deaths were from ship strikes and entanglements; and
  • Ship strikes and entanglements are inflicting “profound physical trauma and suffering on individual” whales.

“North Atlantic right whales are one of North America’s most iconic marine creatures,” added PEER’s Executive Director Tim Whitehouse. “NMFS needs to muster the political will to do what its scientists say is necessary to save this species from an agonizing but certain extinction.”


See the study

See an example of redacted documents from NMFS:

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