Fisheries Closed to Protect Endangered Right Whales in Canada

North Atlantic right whales have not had a good year following a string of deaths, but Canada has announced it will be closing six fisheries in an effort to protect them after two were spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this month.

Once considered the “right” whales to kill, North Atlantic right whales nearly hunted to extinction. Despite a moratorium on commercial whaling, and decades of protection under the Endangered Species Act, they’re barely hanging on.

Today, there are estimated to be fewer than 450 individuals left, who continue to face a barrage of modern-day threats ranging from pollution, energy exploration and climate change to being hit by ships and entangled in fishing gear.

Entanglements and ship strikes are now believed to be the biggest threat to their survival, and are also believed to be responsible for recent losses. Over just the past year, 18 deaths have been documented — 12 found in Canadian waters and six in U.S. waters. Necropsies revealed the deaths were related to entanglements or ship strikes, while the details of the findings were heartbreaking.

“The injuries are really gruesome, and would never be tolerated if they happened to a land animal in plain view of the public,” Mark Baumgartner, a marine ecologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said last year.

Even more troubling is fewer and fewer calves have been born over the past few years, and this year there were none spotted at all in their breeding grounds off the coasts of Florida and Georgia.

While they normally travel to the Bay of Fundy and southwest Nova Scotia during summer, they’ve increasingly headed to the Gulf of St. Lawrence where there were no protections for them in place. They’re likely looking for their main food source, zooplankton called copepods, but the combination of their presence, along with ships and fishing gear has been disastrous.

Earlier this Spring, Canada added restrictions to its snow crab fishery and ship speeds in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but right whale advocates argue they didn’t go nearly far enough to keep them safe.

Now, after the first two of the year were spotted on May 15, Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced that six fisheries there would be closed this Tuesday in an effort to protect them. As of now, snow crab, rock crab, lobster and whelk fisheries, along with winter flounder, Atlantic halibut have all been shut down until further notice.

Hopefully Canada’s actions, combined with efforts in the U.S., to protect these whales as they migrate along the East coast will help keep them safe from known threats and give them a chance to bounce back from the catastrophic losses they’ve just experienced.

It’s still going to take a lot of public pressure to get both governments to continue to enact and enforce meaningful regulations while there’s still a chance to help. Scientists have estimated they could go extinct by 2040 if urgent action isn’t taken on their behalf.

Photo credit: EcoHealth Alliance/NOAA

57 comments

Janis K
Janis K1 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Chad A
Chad Anderson2 months ago

Thank you.

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Veronica D
Veronica Danie2 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica D
Veronica Danie2 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica D
Veronica Danie2 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Peggy Peters
Peggy Peters2 months ago

Good news for whales!

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ANA MARIJA R
ANA MARIJA R2 months ago

Well done & Thank You Canada.💕 Petition signed. Thank you.

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Nicole H
Nicole H2 months ago

Such a pity that these wonderful, beautiful, gracious animals are diminishing each year. They are no longer at the brink of extinction. They are just nog extinct. Another couple of years without of with such small number of calves says enough !! What are we waiting for to take serious measures to safe the few remaining ones and to take measures to have a bigger number of calves the next years. But as I can see, only a few shy steps are taken to protect the last of these giants.... Of course, we can not command them to take other routes. Neither can we increase their number of calves. It are not little puppies we can elevate in sanctuaries. Their size is NOT in their favour to be easily helped.
I hope some reasonable people, scientists and fishermen alike, will understand and appreciate the necessity of helping these giants. But it has been proven the last decades so many times that the "factory fishing" is not favorable for other species of fish, than those they want to fish... And what happens with these "accidental" victims ? Either cut to pieces to be used as bait, or just dumped back into the sea.. All lost in the most useless way ! Not even put aside in boxes or closed drums to be discharged and given to homeless people organizations who could use them for preparing healthy meals !! Our modern society is a drama-tragedy-comedy... But the tragic part most certainly is the biggest !!

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Angela AWAY K
Angela K2 months ago

Petition already signed & shared

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