PEERMail: Edging Closer to Extinction

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Last week was an incredibly bad week for one of the most endangered whales in the world. Six North Atlantic right whales were found dead in and around the Gulf of Lawrence.

Some of these animals, known to researchers for many years, were successful breeders and expected to continue contributing to the population for decades. Punctuation, one of only 100 breeding age females left, was a mother to at least eight calves, and a grandmother to at least two. Comet, named for a long scar along his body, was a 34-year old grandfather. Wolverine, a nine-year-old male, had survived previous encounters with ships.

According to a new study, published in the scientific journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, 100% of the deaths of adult and juvenile right whales were attributable to ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear – traumatic events that are both gruesome and preventable. This study underscores that humans are the primary contributors to their mortality and as such the only ones that can ensure their survival.

These deaths are a massive blow to the population of whales which hovers just over 400 animals.

In response to the recent deaths, Oceans and Fisheries Canada has instituted emergency speed restrictions in shipping lanes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. While we welcome this action, it feels somewhat too little, too late.

For years, both Canada and the United States have failed to implement decisive measures to reduce entanglements of the right whale in fishing gear and to minimize ship strikes. Plans to implement regulations have stalled due to opposition from some sectors of the fishing industry.

Last week, PEER called on Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to act now to stop this senseless slaughter by ensuring that fishing rope reduction regulations are in place immediately, increasing aerial surveillance and imposing more speed limits in shipping lanes.

North Atlantic right whales are one of North America’s most iconic marine creatures. NMFS needs to muster the political will to do what its scientists say is necessary to save this species from an agonizing but certain extinction.

Sincerely,

Tim Whitehouse
Executive Director


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