The North Atlantic right whale is the most endangered large whale on the planet. Historically found throughout the Atlantic Ocean, it was named the “right” whale because its large body and thick blubber made it attractive to hunt – it can weigh up to 70,000 kilograms and measure up to 18 metres. This led to centuries of overexploitation.
Globally protected from commercial whaling in 1935, the North Atlantic right whale is now almost solely found in the Western Atlantic Ocean, from the coast of Florida up to Atlantic Canada. Increasing numbers of North Atlantic right whales are being killed by human activities, making this a major factor limiting the population’s recovery by impacting overall population survival. Specifically, North Atlantic right whales are highly susceptible to ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear due to their habitat being heavily used by the shipping and fishing industries. This, combined with lower calving rates since 2010, is restricting the species’ ability to recover, placing them at risk for extinction in as little as 20 years.
With increasing risks to North Atlantic right whales from entanglement and ship strikes, we are working alongside government and industry to better quantify the risks, and to develop innovative approaches to decrease the threat of entanglement and improve fisheries management measures.