Only 10 calves were born to a critically endangered population of whales found off North America’s East Coast this year. With only around 360 North Atlantic right whales left, every single whale calf is worth celebrating and protecting.
In early January, one of the calves was born off the coast of Florida to a whale named Derecha, Spanish for “right.” Within hours of sharing the excitement of the new birth, devastation struck. The newborn already had life-threatening injuries caused by a ship. The propeller sliced through its mouth and head, likely impacting its ability to nurse. The calf has not been seen since January 15, and is presumed dead.
The heartbreaking losses for right whales continued in June when another calf was found dead off the coast of New Jersey. Tragically, he was only seven months old when he was killed. During his short life he had been struck by ships at least two separate times, the second strike resulting in his death.
These deaths are preventable. We know that slowing vessels down increases the likelihood of whales surviving collisions. For too long, we’ve trusted ships to voluntarily slow down in areas where North Atlantic right whales are present. Now, thanks to a recent investigation into ship speeds, we know these voluntary measures aren’t working.
Around 90 right whales have been seen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence already this summer, including five of the remaining calves. Surviving their northern migration through busy shipping lanes and active fishing areas in search for food, their journey takes them through the Cabot Strait – their only known entrance into the Gulf.
Earlier this year, Transport Canada announced a voluntary slowdown in the Cabot Strait intended to protect right whales. Oceana Canada’s new report, Dangerous Passage, revealed that ships largely ignored the slowdown. From April 28 to June 15, a shocking 67 per cent of ships did not comply with the measure and went faster than the suggested 10-knot limit. Some even travelled 20 knots or faster, speeds at which right whales have very little chance of surviving a ship strike.
Ship speeds in the Cabot Strait were monitored using Global Fishing Watch data, which is a component of a new, innovative tool called Ship Speed Watch. Oceana’s Ship Speed Watch is a public mapping tool that allows users to monitor ship speeds and positions in areas frequented by North Atlantic right whales along the East Coast of Canada and the U.S. in near-real time. View the tool and track ships.
With right whales just one step away from extinction, we must do everything possible to protect them. Oceana Canada is urgently calling on Transport Canada to immediately upgrade the slowdown zone in the Cabot Strait from voluntary to mandatory. This action is needed before the fall, when right whales will again migrate through this area on their journey south.
How many more calves will have to die on our government’s watch before they take action to protect this critically endangered species?