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Our Mission

The North Atlantic Right Whale is a critically endangered whale. With the first whale watches in the 1970s, we were able to estimate there to be about 350 right whales.

With the establishment of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in 1992, a host of advancements and best practices were born, including the creation of an advisory council, emergency whale disentanglement network, sinking and break-away lobster trap lines, a mandatory ship reporting system, a ship collision avoidance system, re-routing cargo shipping channels, the world’s first automatic whale detection system, and seasonal slow speed zones.

These collaborative management actions led to the growth of the right whale population to a healthier 451. But despite those successes, the right whale population took a turn for the worse in 2017 due to greater numbers of ship strikes, entanglements, and unexplained deaths. By 2020, the population had fallen to 338 right whales, with only 50-70 breeding females.

Now, we’ve got to have all hands on deck if the right whale has a chance to survive.

The lesson of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is that we can best help the right whale when all diverse interests have a seat at the table and community participation and engagement is encouraged.

To that end, we place emphasis on:

  • An active Advisory Council, inclusive of all stakeholders, should regularly hold open meetings with ambitious agendas.
  • Building strong working relationships.
  • Maintaining compatibility with U.S. commercial and recreational fishery management, offshore energy, and transportation.
  • Coordinating and facilitating open communication between all ocean users.
  • Building networks of researchers, educators, and supporters to advance science, exploration, and education.

It’s vital that we improve our understanding of what is threatening right whales. In addition to ship strikes and entanglements, there are concerns about diminishing food supply and toxins that bioaccumulate in the bodies of whales.

The Right Whale Sanctuary understands that our watersheds and the ocean are one interlinked ecosystem – what we do on land may harm the right whales in the sea. Conversely, our actions at home can benefit whales when we stop using chemicals, slow down stormwater drainage, enable water to soak into the land, restore soils and local water cycles, and keep rivers flowing all summer.

Building on the amazing accomplishments of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, our aim is to call for a North Atlantic Right Whale National Marine Sanctuary that might stretch as large as 7,000 square miles, including Cape Cod Bay, around the outer Cape across Nantucket Shoals to Block Island, Rhode Island. View the proposed map here.

This sanctuary would protect right whales and their critical marine habitat through education, research, and resource protection efforts informed by an active advisory council. The sanctuary would work with community and interest groups, including conservationists, scientists, fishers, windmill and boat operators, government agencies, and others. The Advisory Council would also include Narragansett and Wampanoag Aquinnah representatives from local indigenous groups as well. Learn more about the coalition.

Every April, North Atlantic Right Whales break their winter fast on zooplankton, small animals like copepods that drift over the sandy shoaling waters off Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod, and we want to see them swimming off the coast for many more decades to come.

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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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