The Department of Commerce and NOAA have unveiled a groundbreaking initiative to protect and revive the endangered North Atlantic right whale population, with a substantial $82 million allocation from the Inflation Reduction Act. This marks a monumental step in climate and conservation investment, coinciding with Climate Week, and is part of NOAA's broader $2.6 billion plan for bolstering coastal resilience, announced earlier this year.
The North Atlantic right whale, teetering on the brink of extinction, has seen its numbers dwindle to fewer than 350 individuals, including fewer than 70 reproductively active females. Today's funding presents an unprecedented opportunity to combat the primary threats to the species—entanglement in fishing gear and vessel collisions—through the development of innovative technologies and approaches.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo expressed the significance of this historic funding, stating, "With $82 million of Inflation Reduction Act funding, we are making smart investments—a cornerstone of Bidenomics—to help address the crisis these whales are facing through innovative solutions that minimize the impact on workers in marine industries."
The newly allocated funds will support the application of existing technologies, including passive acoustic monitoring, and the creation and implementation of cutting-edge technologies to enable vessels to detect and avoid North Atlantic right whales, as well as other large whale species. Furthermore, NOAA Fisheries will continue to explore and assess novel technologies, such as high-resolution satellite information, to revolutionize monitoring efforts and enhance our understanding of the whales' distribution and habitat usage.
Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, emphasized the urgent need for innovative actions to aid in the recovery of North Atlantic right whales, especially as their distribution patterns have shifted towards areas with fewer safeguards against vessel strikes and entanglements over the past decade. She stated, "This funding allows us to invest in technologies to reduce the risk of vessel strikes, increase the use of on-demand fishing gear, and improve enforcement of existing federal regulations."
Over the next three years, NOAA will allocate resources to four key areas: monitoring and computer modeling of whale distribution, reduction of vessel strike risks, development of on-demand fishing gear, and enforcement efforts. The breakdown of anticipated funding is as follows:
- Approximately $35.8 million for monitoring and modeling, including $17.2 million for passive acoustic monitoring along the U.S. East Coast, $3.5 million for a satellite tagging monitoring program, $5.6 million for high-resolution satellite artificial intelligence, and $5.2 million for modeling advancements.
- Roughly $20.1 million will be dedicated to vessel strike risk reduction efforts, with $16.7 million allocated to the development of whale detection and avoidance technology.
- About $17.9 million will be invested in advancing on-demand fishing gear technology.
- Approximately $5 million will be channeled into enforcement efforts, supporting the acquisition of new equipment, technologies, and operational enhancements.
This funding aligns with NOAA Fisheries' comprehensive "Road to Recovery" plan for North Atlantic right whales. These whales are not only endangered but also facing a critical situation characterized by an Unusual Mortality Event, declared by NOAA Fisheries in 2017 due to a significant increase in right whale mortalities. The event persists, with 115 North Atlantic right whales documented as deceased, seriously injured, or in poor health.
In addition to leveraging other funding sources and aiding the development of innovative fishing gear, the Inflation Reduction Act funding will facilitate partnerships and coordination between federal, state, industry, and other stakeholders, promoting the creation and implementation of advanced solutions to combat both existing and emerging threats to this species.
Source: Kate W. (September 18, 2023). Biden-Harris Administration announces historic $82 million for endangered North Atlantic right whales as part of Investing in America agenda. NOAA. https://www.noaa.gov/news-release/historic-82-million-for-critically-endangered-North-Atlantic-right-whales