Good News: Vastly Fewer Right Whale Deaths This Year

Aug 13, 2018

There’s a bit of good news when it comes to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. Only one dead whale has been found in 2018, as opposed to the 17 that were found last year.

One possible source of improvement were the closures of the snow crab fishery in Canada and the reduction of ship speeds in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the whales were seen in large numbers last year.

Twelve of the 17 whales were found dead in Canadian waters last year. None have been found dead in Canadian waters this year.

“We think that those are definitely having a positive effect,” said Mark Baumgartner, associate scientist with tenure at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and director of the North Atlantic right whale consortium.

On the other hand, there have been no right whale calves spotted this year.

“That's extremely worrisome,” Baumgartner said. “We've had one year where there was only one calf sighted, so this is unusual, but it has happened before.”

Because 82 percent of right whale deaths are caused by entanglement in fixed fishing gear like lobster traps, Baumgartner and his colleagues have focused on developing new gear that would use fewer ropes. The technology has been called “rope-less fishing.”

“There's a number of kind of small scale tests that had been going on,” he said. “We're getting fishermen more and more involved in that testing.”

Baumgartner said he is glad to hear of legislation that would appropriate five million dollars per year for co-operative research on technologies that could reduce the risk of entanglement of North Atlantic right whales. The legislation was introduced by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.  

“I think at this point where we're talking about investments in rope-less to date have been probably less than $300,000,” he said. “That's going to that's going to be a big step forward.”