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  • Writer's pictureRhonda Massad

15 whale calves born this calving season were likely killed by a sport fishing vessel

The research, which used satellite tracking data to identify where blue whales – the largest mammal on Earth – come up against heavy shipping traffic, could also in time help to create strategies and safe havens to protect these ocean giants.

More whale news:

This World Whale Day (Feb. 21st), just fourteen calves offer hope for the survival of the North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species on the brink of extinction. Though the trend of this recent calving season is positive, the situation remains tenuous, given the recent tragic death of a calf reported just last week. This is according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) which has led a multi-lateral campaign across the US and Canada to restore this once thriving species.

Once numbering in the tens of thousands, the species estimates now hover at only 360 total individuals, threatened by entanglement in commercial fishing gear and vessel strikes.

Endearingly referred to by some as the 'Class of 2021', these fourteen young calves, five of which were born to first-time mothers, are critical to the survival of the species following years of severe shortfalls in new right whale calve births. Sadly, one of the 15 calves born this calving season was likely killed by a sport fishing vessel off the coast of Florida on February 13th. The calf showed obvious signs of trauma from vessel strike and is the first right whale death reported his year, and the third calf death reported over the last thirteen months.

These calves, along with their mothers and respective pods, have begun their journey to feeding grounds off the shores of Cape Cod up to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada, maneuvering through an industrial waterway dense with shipping traffic and an estimated one million commercial vertical fishing lines in the water column. The immense amount of threats encountered in such a journey can ultimately affect the growth and reproductive development of right whales as they endure conditions that inflict both short and long-term stress.

This week, the government of Canada announced the 2021 measures to mitigate the impacts of fisheries and marine traffic for whales while in Canadian waters. These sustained measures are an important component of ongoing efforts by government and industry groups to support the recovery of the North Atlantic right whale. IFAW believes all parties must come to the table in the search for a long-term solution. Currently, the key elements of our efforts include:

  • Testing and promoting the development and adoption of ropeless fishing gear technology which would significantly reduce the risk of entanglement;

  • Advocating sustained funding for research and development into life-saving technologies that provide long-term solutions;

  • Advocating for maritime regulations that include expansion of existing speed restrictions and altering shipping lanes to reduce vessel strikes;

  • Assisting in the development of Whale Alert, a situational awareness app for mariners to avoid potential for vessel strike; and

  • Educating consumers about the existence of safer fishing practices and advocating for the introduction of whale-friendly seafood.

According to Patricia Zaat, IFAW Canada's Country Director, "Canada has an important responsibility to ensure that the North Atlantic right whale is protected while in our waters. If human activity has brought the North Atlantic right whale to this critical tipping point, then human proactivity, collaboration, and 21st century innovation can save it."

To take action for the North Atlantic right whale click here.

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