Last week, our drone footage of a right whale swimming in Cape Cod Bay went viral. While it was definitely cool to have so many people see our video, it’s more important to us that we use this as an opportunity to talk about the bleak future the North Atlantic right whale faces.
It’s estimated that there are only 411 North Atlantic right whales left in the world. Whalers pursued these animals for their oil for lighting and baleen for products like umbrellas. The right whale was unfortunately targeted: they got their name after being the “right” whale to hunt because they are slow moving and their bodies float after they are killed. They were hunted to the brink of extinction, and despite being a protected species since the 1970s, their populations have struggled to rebound.
Human activity is to blame, but steps are being taken to turn the tide for the future of the North Atlantic right whale.
1. Boat strikes
The migration routes of right whales puts them directly in the path of major shipping lanes in the Northeast, which can result in fatal strikes by vessels.
Luckily, steps are being taken to protect right whales from ship strikes. Speed reduction rules and adjusting shipping routes to avoid popular calving, nursery, and feeding grounds help prevent boat strikes. Underwater microphones attached to buoys detect nearby whales and alert ships passing through the area.
Some fishing practices put right whales in harm’s way. The heavy ropes used by fishermen catching lobsters and crabs can easily get wrapped around a whale’s body and fishing nets can completely entangle a whale. This equipment can cause a whale to starve to death or drown.
Fortunately, there has been a growing movement toward whale-friendly fishing equipment. Our non-profit partner, the Center for Coastal Studies, conducts fishing gear recovery missions in the waters off Cape Cod. The organization works with other stakeholders to retrieve lost, abandoned, or derelict fishing gear to protect marine animals in the area.
3. Ocean Noise
Ships, sonar activity, oil drilling, and seismic blasts are polluting the ocean with a damaging amount of noise. Not only does the barrage of sound stress out marine animals, but it interferes with their communication. Right whales use vocalizations to alert each other to where they are, find a mate, and signal when food is nearby. The growing levels of noise in the ocean are interrupting their communication, which can have tragic consequences.
4. Climate Change
Marine animals are shifting their geographic range as the ocean warms from our changing climate. This is true for right whales, which are now being found further north than in the past, searching for cooler waters where their prey can be found. Shipping restrictions haven’t been put in place in these new territories, leaving the right whales vulnerable to strikes and fishing equipment that may not be whale-friendly.
The changing marine ecosystem is making it harder for whales to find their food. Females won’t breed if they haven’t been able to find enough to eat, which may explain why their birth rate is declining.
If you come across a North Atlantic right whale in the water, slow down and stay at least 500 yards away. Call (866) 755-6622 to report the sighting so other boaters can be alerted.
The future of the North Atlantic right whale may seem bleak, but conservation efforts and rethinking our relationship with the ocean may help save these amazing animals.
15% of your profits from our whale designs support right whale conservation. We’ve partnered with the Center for Coastal Studies up in Provincetown on the Whale Necklace and Whale and Dolphin Conservation on the Whale Clasp.
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my morning walk with fish was extra special today 💙🐳 this is one of the ~411 north atlantic right whales left in the world. their population continues to fall due to threats like ship strikes & entanglements. you can help the recovery of these awesome creatures by supporting organizations like @coastalstudiesptown and @whales_org. the future of right whales up to us 🌊 #makewaves