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Science & Environment

North Atlantic Right Whale Found Dead Off New York Coast

Dead North Atlantic Right whale off the coast of Long Island, New York in Sept. 2019.
NY Department of Environmental Conservation

The carcass of a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale was found off the coast of Long Island, New York on Tuesday, bringing the 2019 death toll to nine.

Announced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it's the first documented carcass found in U.S. waters this year, with the remainder discovered in Canadian waters.

Because of the state of composition, officials said they were unable to provide any details on the whale's cause of death, age, or sex, until a necropsy was conducted.

The news comes just one day after Massachusetts Congressmen Seth Moulton re-introduced legislation he hopes could save the roughly 400 North Atlantic Right Whales left in the world.

The SAVE Right Whales Act would designate $5 million annually for 10 years to fund research and technology.

Grants could be awarded to applicants who, for example, develop weak fishing ropes that break when a whale gets entangled.

Entanglement is the leading cause of death for the whales. But, Moulton says, this bill could change that.  

“It works to help save right whales by investing in research in technology to solve this problem in ways that will enable the fishing industry to continue and also ensure that right whales are around for generations to come,” Moulton said in a media call.

He introduced the bill last year in a previous session of congress, and said he hopes with bipartisan support this year it could find success.

The call, co-hosted with Sarah Sharp, a veternarian with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and Rob Morris, a ropeless technology prduct manager at Edge Tech, comes just weeks after the Maine Lobstermen’s Association withdrew from an agreement with scientists and federal officials that was intended to reduce the number of right whale deaths. It did so citing concerns about the data used and potential cost to fishermen.

Its' surprising departure from the deal highlights the difficult balance between protecting a critically endangered species with preserving the fishing industry.

“If this gets even more dire, they may literally get regulated out of business, and that’s not what we want to get to,” Moulton said.  “I think the lobstermen in Massachusetts are being really smart. I think right now the lobstermen in Maine are being short-sighted. But we hope to bring them back on board because ultimately they’re gonna be better off having a seat at the table.”

The Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association will discuss whether it wants to pull out of the same agreement at an internal meeting next week. 

Nonetheless, Moulton emphasized, no one wants to see these whales dead, so the time for action is now. 

“Fundamentally we’re here because we have a choice,” he said.  “We can either be the generation that saves the right whale, or the generation that watches it go extinct. And I certainly know which side of that I want to be on.”