Efforts Accelerate to Protect North Atlantic Right Whales

During 2017, NOAA documented the deaths of 17 right whales within U.S. and Canadian waters. With an estimated population of only 450 right whales remaining in existence, only 25 percent identified as breeding females, the impact of these deaths is a major blow to conservation efforts and vitality of the species.

Northeast units of the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement are increasing their focus this year on the enforcement of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan that aims to detect and deter illegally placed fishing gear and reduce the likelihood of fatal whale entanglements, the agencies announced.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and in alignment with whale migration patterns, increased operations will run May 1 through June 30 off the Massachusetts coast with more frequent air and sea patrols in seasonal gear closure areas. Coast Guard units across the First District will engage in an operation taking aim on at-sea inspections of unattended lobster and gillnet gear, with the goal of identifying and ensuring the removal of illegally rigged and improperly marked gear in an effort to decrease whale entanglements within New England's waters.

Each spring, as nutrient-rich waters yield large plankton blooms, North Atlantic right whales migrate to feed off New England's coast. A variety of species, like humpback and fin whales, also display a strong presence throughout the spring and summer months. The right whale is endangered. During 2017, NOAA documented the deaths of 17 right whales within U.S. and Canadian waters. With an estimated population of only 450 right whales remaining in existence, only 25 percent identified as breeding females, the impact of these deaths is a major blow to conservation efforts and vitality of the species.

Whale deaths often result from human interference such as ship strikes or fishing gear entanglements. In at least seven of these documented whale fatality cases, fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes were found to be the main causes of death.

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