NOAA analysis finds right whale strikes and entanglements must be cut to save species

A photo of a right whale.

A NOAA Fisheries analysis found that North Atlantic right whales will go extinct unless vessel strikes and gear entanglements are “considerably reduced.”

The comprehensive population viability analysis was conducted by the NOAA Fisheries North Atlantic Right Whale Implementation Teams and considered three threats to the species: Entanglements in fishing gear, vessel strikes, and changes in prey abundance and availability. Looking at each factor individually, the analysis showed that reducing entanglements was the most effective way to help the right whale population recover. Reducing vessel strikes also had the most positive impact. 

"This tool does not estimate or predict actual risk reduction likely for a prescribed management measure such as weak links in gear or reduced vessel speeds,” NOAA Fisheries Research Statistician and coauthor Daniel Linden. “Instead, it helps those making decisions and recommendations understand how the North Atlantic right whale population is likely to respond over time if deaths and injuries from various threats are reduced by target amounts.”

Still, a 25 percent reduction in both strikes and entanglements would only reduce the probability of quasi-extinction to 53 percent, according to the authors. Quasi-extinction is when a population still exists but is too small to recover. The analysis assumed right whales will reach quasi-extinction if there are fewer than 50 reproductively successful females after 100 years. There are currently fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales remaining, according to NOAA Fisheries.

The analysis was one of the suggestions included in NOAA’s 5-year review of the right whale status.

In September, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden announced USD 82 million (EUR 77 million) in funding for North Atlantic right whale conservation and recovery efforts. USD 36 million (EUR 34 million) will be used for monitoring and modeling, USD 20 million (EUR 19 million) will be used to reduce vessel strikes, USD 18 million (EUR 17 million) will be invested in developing on-demand fishing gear and deployment, and USD 5 million (EUR 4.7 million) will be invested in law enforcement.

Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries


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