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The North Atlantic Right Whale: One Of The Most Endangered Whales In The World.
According to the Florida Fish and Wild Life Conservation (FWC), the North Atlantic right whale, also known as Eubalaena glacialis , is “one of the most endangered large whales in the world,” and up until the mid 1930’s, they have been hunted to near extinction for their large amounts of oil and baleen. They received their name by whalers who considered them the “right” whale to hunt. Other species of right whale are the North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica ) and the Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis ).
Although hunting was banned, the North Atlantic right whale still faces extinction due to human activities. From winter to spring, the North Atlantic right whale migrates to coastal waters located off the coasts of Georgia and Florida where they give birth to their calves. Because of their preference to coastal waters, they are now faced with other problems: this preference has placed them in the “commercial fisheries areas,” which is causing fishing gear entanglements and collision with large vessels. According to the Fish and Wildlife Center (FWC), this has caused about a 30% of their mortality rate.
This is a serious problem for the “right whale" because according to FWC, even one death per year has a significant effect on the population, which is estimated to number just over 300 individuals and they still remain critically endangered.
The Fish and Wildlife Center (FWC) does not mention if the problem is getting worse, nor do they say it's improving either. The FWC site claims that the number has increased by 50 since 2000, however, 25% of newborns die within the first year and more right whales have been found dead. The FWC does mention, however, that between 1987 and 1999, different organizations have taken many measures to keep the whales protected:
- “The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) designated the coastal waters of Florida and Georgia as the right whale critical habitat in the Southeast U.S.” giving whales more protection while in calving grounds. For the Northeast, the designated areas are the Great South Channel, Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay, Bay of Fundy, and the Scotian Shelf.
- “Researchers, including the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR), and the New England Aquarium (NEA), fly Early Warning System (EWS) aerial surveys to locate animals during the calving season. The EWS surveys are organized to relay location information to mariners in an attempt to prevent vessel-whale collisions.”
- To prevent ship collision with Right Whales, “NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard implemented the Mandatory Ship Reporting Systems (MSR),” requiring commercial ships greater than 300 tons to report to the MSR when entering right whale habitat during their calving season. The MSR then relates information of recent whale locations and advisories.
- The FWC states that federal efforts resulted in the Southeast Implementation Team (SEIT), “a multi-agency and citizen advisory group” for the recovery of the Right Whale, in which the FWC is a member of. This “team develops management and research recommendations and assists in implementing the recovery plan.
How can we help?
The premature extinction of this species may be resolved through the timely combined efforts of all governments, public awareness, and adequate funding for new research and implementation of endangered species protection laws. Although the FWC’s claims are impressive, the fact remains that the species has not been taken off the endangered species list in decades. All this tracking and observations have not prevented entanglements, injuries, and deaths consequently leading to conclude that all research, data, and efforts need revision and alternate plans for the preservation of the species are needed.
Through the above mentioned resolution, and citizen involvement in the protection of the North Atlantic right whale, the species has a chance of survival. Citizens can involve themselves and contribute by volunteering in right whale sighting. Volunteers can also bring public awareness by educating others.
If a Right Whale is Sighted
FWC and the NOAA advices that if a right whale is sighted or entangled in fishing gear, do not approach the whale closer than 500 yards, instead report the sighting by calling the following numbers:
In the Northeast Region:
(Northeast Region: ME - VA and offshore north of 36°35'N)
Entangled whales: 800-900-3622
Dead, ship-struck, or injured whales: 978-281-9351
General right whale sightings: 978-585-8473
In the Southeast Region (includes the Gulf of Mexico):
(Southeast Region: NC - TX and offshore south of 36°35'N)
Entangled, dead, ship-struck, or injured whales: 877-433-8299.
All other right whale sightings: 904-237-4220
Sightings in any location notify the U.S Coast Guard on VHF Ch. 16 and provide coordinates, location, and direction of travel.