To put it simply, it’s rarely looked so bad for the continued viability of right whales as a species. Saturday marked the end of the first recorded season with zero right whale calves observed.
“The big thing that we’re keeping our fingers crossed about this summer, is that hopefully we won’t see a lot of whales die again in New England and Canada, like what happened last summer,” said Clay George, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources. “Low calving years certainly aren’t good, but a lot of adult whales dying is much, much worse.
“These whales’ reproductive strategy is to live a long time, and not calving that often, but counting on living long enough that they can still have enough calves over, probably, as much as 100-year lifespan. If they’re dying when they’re in their prime, then they’re simply not going to be able to produce enough calves to replace themselves.”
Though right whales calve off the coast of Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida, adults get in the most trouble among fishing lines up the Atlantic Coast in much colder climates.
While there has been reticence from lobster fishermen to change their practices, Mark Bumgartner with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution told Maine Public Radio that the federal government may step in with fishery closures as a way to protect right whales, if lobster fishing methods do not change.
“As the population continues to decline and pressure is put on the government to do something about it, then they’re going to turn to closures, because that’s all they’ll have,” Bumgartner said.
Meanwhile, the commissioner of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources said in the same piece that Canada needs to do its job — 12 of the 18 adult right whale deaths in the past year occurred in Canadian waters.
The Globe and Mail of Toronto reported Saturday of extensive advances in technology with an eye toward widespread, ropeless fishing for lobster and snow crab, helped along at the moment by federal funding in the United States and some amount of interest from Canadian regulators. But in the immediate future, folks looking out for the continued existence of right whales are asking fishermen in New England and the Maritime Provinces to simply move to lighter rope, which whales can break if they get caught up in it.
Also, while American regulators look to possible fishery closures, Canada announced last week it is closing the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab fishery.
“There will be many more closures and openings of different parts of the fishing zone over the course of this season because we’re going to have what we hope is more reliable and comprehensive data based on the real-time location of the whales,” Dominic LeBlanc, minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, said to the Globe and Mail.