Sierra Club Canada is calling for emergency measures to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale after another entangled whale was spotted off New Brunswick last week. While whalesafe gear was supposed to be ready for this year’s fishing season, Canada delayed full implementation to 2023 - a full five years after the mass mortality event in 2017 that raised alarm bells about the survival of the species.
“The news of an entangled North Atlantic right whale (NARW) spotted off the shores of New Brunswick shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Researchers found that 83% of the critically endangered NARW population experience at least one entanglement throughout their life, with 59% of those having been entangled more than once” according to Simon L’Allier, Marine Mammal Coordinator with the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, “With less than 350 individuals remaining, these entanglements must stop. We need greater investment and rapid deployment of gear that does not entangle whales if we want this species to survive. If not, it is very likely the North Atlantic right whale will become extinct on our watch.”.
Meridian, the 38-year-old male whale who was recently spotted, is at his fifth entanglement. While he and other individuals have survived entanglements before, it remains the primary cause of mortality in the species. And if it doesn’t kill them, it can have serious impacts on their health and even reduce fecundity in females, further preventing the species’ ability to recover. Reports from US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicate that such entanglements can occur at an approximate rate of four per year.
“Having studied this species for 36 years, it is heartbreaking to see right whales killed or injured from entanglements and vessel strikes faster than they can reproduce”, says Dr. Philip Hamilton, Senior Scientist at the New England Aquarium. “I am often asked whether the U.S. and Canada are doing enough to protect them. While there have been multiple efforts in both countries, the whales’ continued suffering shows us that management efforts are not going far enough.”
“The Gulf of St. Lawrence is a magnificent, shared ecosystem, home to some of the world's most iconic seascapes and fisheries and tourism industries. As the northern home to the critically endangered right whale it is also a key test of Canada's commitment to biodiversity and protection of ocean life,” according to Gretchen Fitzgerald, National Programs Director with Sierra Club Canada Foundation. “Our hope is that protecting these whales will also create momentum for restoring the Gulf as a whole.”
Sierra Club Canada has created an educational art piece depicting all remaining North Atlantic right whales in hopes to raise awareness in the public about the issues facing the species which can be viewed here: https://www.sierraclub.ca/en/right-whales
They hope to accelerate action and ensure no further delays will occur in implementing whalesafe fishing gear in the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence bioregion. Sierra Club Canada is also organizing an online discussion panel to explore the current state of the North Atlantic right whale and the work that is being done to help the species recover. This event will be held on July 14th, 2022 at 1:00 pm Eastern Time. They are also organizing a webinar on climate change and its impact on the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence (July 28th).
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