Please select your home edition
Edition
Selden

Watching for right whales more important than ever

by NOAA Fisheries 25 Nov 12:49 UTC
North Atlantic right whale mother and calf, sighted June 6, 2014 during an aerial survey. © NOAA Fisheries / Christin Khan

North Atlantic right whales are on the move along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. With an unprecedented 20 right whale deaths documented in 2017 and 2018, NOAA is cautioning boaters to give these endangered whales plenty of room as they migrate south.

The agency is also asking commercial fishermen to be vigilant when maneuvering to avoid accidental collisions with whales, remove unused gear from the ocean to help avoid entanglements, and use vertical lines with required markings, weak links and breaking strengths.

North Atlantic right whales are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Scientists estimate there are just over 400 remaining, making them one of the rarest marine mammals in the world.

"We are very concerned about the future of North Atlantic right whales," said Barb Zoodsma, right whale biologist for NOAA Fisheries. "We lost 20 right whales in U.S. and Canadian waters since 2017 during an Unusual Mortality Event. The number of right whale deaths is troubling for a population of a little more than 400 animals, particularly because we estimate that there are only about 100 breeding females who are producing fewer calves each year."

NOAA Fisheries, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard are reminding boaters, anglers and coastal residents that North Atlantic right whale calving season begins in mid-November and runs through mid-April and that mariners should stay alert and keep their distance.

Every winter, many right whales travel more than 1,000 miles from their feeding grounds off Canada and New England to the warm coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida's east coast.

"These southern waters are where right whales give birth and nurse their young, making it extremely important for people to be aware of the whales' movement and migratory patterns," said Tom Pitchford, wildlife biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Any disturbance could affect behaviors critical to the health and survival of the species. Please stay alert while in right whale habitat and immediately report any sightings to the hotline number (877) WHALE-HELP (or 877-942-5343)."

Entanglement in fixed commercial fishing gear is a major threat to right whales. There are restrictions on where and how commercial traps, pot gear and gillnet gear can be set. These restrictions include seasonal closures and gear modifications such as sinking groundlines, weak links and gear markings.

To reduce the risk of harassment or collisions between right whales and boats, federal law requires vessels and aircraft to stay at least 500 yards away from right whales. Vessels 65 feet and longer are also required to slow to speeds of 10 knots or less in Seasonal Management Areas along the East Coast, including the calving and nursery area.

"Right whales often swim and rest just below the surface, and are invisible to approaching boats and ships," said wildlife biologist Clay George of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "It's important for ship operators to follow vessel speed rules, and for boaters to slow down whenever possible."

U.S. Speed restrictions are in place in various areas along the mid-Atlantic Nov. 1-April 30 and in the southeast U.S. calving area Nov. 15-April 15. View more information on seasonal ship speed restrictions.

While the federal Ship Strike Reduction Rule does not regulate vessels under 65 feet, collisions with smaller vessels have occurred, resulting in injury to whales and expensive damage to boats.

NOAA and its partners conduct aerial and vessel surveys off the coast of Florida and Georgia throughout the calving season. These surveys monitor the seasonal presence of right whales and their habitat use, mitigate vessel-whale collisions, assess calving rates, and detect dead, injured and entangled whales. When observed, NOAA and its partners also respond to disentangle animals and investigate injuries and mortalities.

To report right whale sightings, especially dead, injured, or entangled whales, please contact NOAA Fisheries at (877) WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343) or the Coast Guard on marine VHF channel 16. The public can also identify and help marine mammals in trouble by using their smartphone. Learn more about the Whale 911 app.

NOAA's mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.

Related Articles

Large Whale Entanglements National Report
A national report on large whale entanglements confirmed in the United States in 2017 A national report on large whale entanglements confirmed in the United States in 2017. Seventy-Six large whale entanglements were confirmed nationally in 2017, slightly above the annual average. Posted today at 12:34 pm
Wrapping up marine debris mission at Midway
Our team of five cleans up more than 25,000 pounds of debris in 10 days on Midway Atoll The five of us had amazing weather for the rest of the mission—little to no rain or wind, which meant it was hot while we cleaned up the beaches. Luckily for us, the calm and cool waters were always welcoming Posted on 2 Dec
NOAA Fisheries investigating sea lion deaths
Apparent shooting of several California sea lions in the area of West Seattle NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement is investigating the apparent shooting of several California sea lions in the area of West Seattle since October, and reiterates that sea lions are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Posted on 1 Dec
Thanksgiving whale rescue near Prince of Wales
NOAA says actions resulted in a safe, deliberate assessment and rescue of entangled humpback whale. Members of NOAA's North Pacific Large Whale Entanglement Response Team are thankful for Wednesday's freeing of an entangled humpback whale in Sarkar Cove, north of Naukati on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. Posted on 30 Nov
Watch out for whales south of Nantucket
rmExtended voluntary vessel speed restriction zone established south of Nantucket to protect whales A voluntary vessel speed restriction zone (Dynamic Management Area - DMA) has been established 21 nautical miles south of Nantucket, MA to protect an aggregation of 17 right whales sighted in this area on November 26, 2018. Posted on 29 Nov
New national climate assessment report released
Report highlights impacts, risks and adaptations to climate change A new federal report finds that climate change is affecting the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, and human health and welfare across the U.S. and its territories. Posted on 29 Nov
Florida's red tide impacts more than just fish
Massive fish die-offs were just one of many concerns fishermen raised with NOAA scientists Massive fish die-offs were just one of many concerns fishermen raised with NOAA scientists during workshops held in the summer of 2018. Posted on 24 Nov
Adult female right whales key to recovery
Protecting adult female North Atlantic right whales from injury and death key to recovery Why is the endangered western North Atlantic right whale population growing far more slowly than those of southern right whales, a sister species also recovering from near extinction by commercial whaling? Posted on 19 Nov
New project to focus on ocean phytoplankton
Researchers are working to improve data quality collected by satellites over 500 miles above ocean Researchers from NOAA Fisheries and colleagues at the University of Rhode Island, NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, and WHOI will look into the ocean to help improve the quality of data collected by satellites. Posted on 16 Nov
High rainfall, lower salinity in Chesapeake Bay
Higher-than-average rainfall leads to lower salinity in bay; potential effects on living resources Here in much of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, 2018 has been a bit on the damp side—to put it lightly. The area has experienced higher-than-average rainfall, leading to record amounts of water flowing off the land into the Bay. Posted on 15 Nov
GAC Pindar 2018 FooterZhik 2018 Hyeres 728x90 BOTTOMMarine Resources BOTTOM