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The high stakes for the right whale

One of the giants of our oceans is facing a silent struggle just below the surface of the water.

Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries

The collaborative management actions of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary established in 1992 led to the growth of the right whale population up to a high of 451. But despite those successes, things took a turn for the worse in 2017 after an increase in ship strikes, entanglements, and unexplained deaths referred to as “Unusual Mortality Events (UME).” By 2020, the population had fallen to under 350 right whales, with only 50-70 breeding females. 

The mystery remains why the decline in right whale population is greater than the number of ship collisions and fishing gear entanglements. Right whales will not recover unless we step up to do more than is currently being done. 

The UME designation triggers a heightened level of response and resources to investigate the deaths, identify trends or patterns, and implement measures to mitigate the threats. It also calls for more comprehensive collaborations between government agencies, researchers, ocean user groups and the public to work towards the conservation and protection of this critically endangered species.

This chart shows what we know is unmistakable: Our current regulations and sanctuaries are not enough. 

And that’s why we are uniting to call for a new national marine sanctuary that will build on the progress we’ve made to make our seas friendly to whales and take bold, new steps in concert with others to protect and restore the right whale population.

We’re glad to have you join us on this voyage into the heart of the sea, where the fate of right whales intersects with our collective responsibility to protect and preserve the wonders of our oceans.


Posted on December 12, 2023.

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Save the Right Whales

The North Atlantic right whale is a critically endangered whale. In the 1970s, with the first whale watches, there were estimated to be 350 right whales, and the population was growing. Then, in 2017, right whales took a turn for the worse. By 2020, the population had fallen to 338 right whales, with only 50-70 breeding females. We must now do more to protect and restore right whales.


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