Tragedy struck as the lifeless body of a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale was discovered off the shores of Edgartown, Massachusetts, USA, on January 29, marking the second such incident in 2024. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries reported the incident, prompting an initial investigation by marine experts from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) into the cause of death.
According to IFAW Animal Rescue Veterinarian Sarah Sharp, the deceased whale was entangled, emphasizing the potential for entanglements to lead to prolonged suffering and death. While the specific type of rope causing the entanglement remains unidentified by NOAA, concerns grow over the detrimental impact of such incidents on the already dwindling North Atlantic right whale population.
This unfortunate event follows closely on the heels of a right whale calf being struck by a small boat off the coast of South Carolina at the beginning of the year. The loss of a female calf, with the potential for future generations, underscores the urgency of protecting the North Atlantic right whale from further setbacks.
NGOs such as IFAW and Oceana are renewing calls for the adoption of "on-demand" fishing gear, pointing to vertical lines commonly used in lobster and crab fishing as contributing factors to right whale deaths. Oceana Campaign Director Gib Brogan emphasizes that entanglements and boat collisions remain the primary threats to the species' future.
With only 340 individual North Atlantic right whales remaining globally, ongoing research plays a crucial role in their survival. The University of Quebec's acoustic study in the Laurentian Channel aims to understand vessel noise and minimize its impact on marine mammals in the St. Lawrence River. Buoys equipped with underwater hydrophones provide valuable data for developing noise reduction targets for ships.
In the United States, NOAA Fisheries and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) have announced a joint strategy to protect and promote the recovery of North Atlantic right whales. Guidelines include avoiding leasing areas with potential harm to whales, establishing noise limits during construction, and developing new technologies for avoidance and minimization. The Biden administration has also allocated USD 10 million to the Center for Enterprise Modernization to develop technology addressing the North Atlantic right whale crisis.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo emphasizes the collaborative efforts to stabilize the whale population and prevent its extinction. This partnership, funded by President Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, aims to explore new technologies and tools for addressing the urgent North Atlantic right whale crisis.
Source: Chris Chase (Jan 30, 2024). Entangled North Atlantic right whale found dead off Massachusetts. Seafood Source. https://www.seafoodsource.com/news/environment-sustainability/right-whale-found-dead-off-massachusetts-second-so-far-in-2024
Photo courtesy of NOAA/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute/Michael Moore