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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

SAVE them; it’s the right thing to do

The North Atlantic right whale was once common across the entire Atlantic. Unfortunately, this ocean giant (at more than 50 feet long and weighing some 70 tons) became the focus of whaling efforts because the species was ‘the right whale to hunt’—thus its name. Right whales are huge but slow moving and so full of fat that they floated when struck. Subsequently, by the late 1800s, the right whale had been exterminated across most of its range and hunted to the point of extinction in North America. Their population now numbers only some 400 animals and, while whaling no longer threatens the species, it faces the modern perils of entanglement in commercial fishing gear and collisions with the large and fast ships that power across its remaining US and Canadian east coast range. It’s now the most endangered large whale species in the world.

North-atlantic-right-whale-3
Photo courtesy of noaa.gov

Today, Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., stepped up to help protect these majestic creatures by introducing the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered North Atlantic (SAVE) Right Whales Act, which will fund promising research and recovery actions to halt the alarming loss of North Atlantic right whales in our coastal waters. Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and John Rutherford, R-Fla., introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1568).

The legislation would establish a grant program to fund collaborative projects between states, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders in the fishing and shipping industries with the goal of reducing the impacts of human activities on North Atlantic right whales. These funds—granted over a 5-year period—are desperately needed. With some energy and thought, we should be able to find ways to reconcile the interests of stakeholder industries while ensuring the survival of an iconic species that has suffered so much at human hands.

With our oceans warming, right whales are roaming further afield looking for food—they consume tiny plankton that live only in cold waters. That means that prior strategies of setting a short seasonal fishing closure in a small, high-use feeding area, or restricting traffic in a few busy shipping lanes along a predictable migratory route are no longer working to reduce the risk of whale deaths. In fact, some 28 North Atlantic right whales have been found dead just since 2017 with only 12 calves born in the same period.

This decline foretells disaster and demise for North Atlantic right whales unless we embrace the challenge of curbing the most serious threats to their survival, right away. Swift passage of the SAVE Right Whales Act will go a long way toward ensuring that this season’s newborn right whales will grow up not only to replenish their struggling species, but to flourish in a safer, healthier, and better marine environment. Please take a moment to contact your legislators and ask them to support this critical bill—we don’t have a moment to lose if we want to save this species.

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