Red Alert Level for North Atlantic Right Whales

Animal aquatic diving mammal
Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels

There are fewer than 366 North Atlantic bald whales worldwide, according to newly released figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – (NOAA). The figures refer to a population size in January 2019 and are significantly lower than the previously assumed population size of about 400 animals.

“The corrected estimate of the stock numbers of this already highly endangered whale species is shocking,” says Andreas Dinkelmeyer, campaign manager of the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare). “In addition, we know that at least 11 other animals have died since January 2019. Four bald whales with serious injuries were also documented. These whales do not die of natural causes, they are killed by collisions with ships and trapping in fishing lines.”

Researchers have calculated that the population can withlive a maximum loss of 0.9 animals per year due to human activity. Over the past five years, deaths have been caused by an average of 4.2 animals per year due to human causes. This does not include documented deaths with unknown causes, animals with life-threatening injuries, and undocumented deaths. This means that the real number of whales that have died is even higher.

Off the northeast coast of America, the habitat of the whales and the fishing grounds, for example, of lobster fishing overlap. For them, cages are applied to the seabed, which are connected by back-tails with buoys at the water surface. Whales often get tangled up in these lines. To prevent the fatal capture of fishing lines, the IFAW and fisheries experts have developed lineless systems. These modern linens sink to the seabed and do not float in the water column. A network of underwater microphones and an app developed by the IFAW indicate the presence of whales to shipping. Ships can then avoid these areas or reduce their speed to prevent collisions with the whales.

“With fewer than 360 remaining individuals, of which only 94 are reproductive females, it is clear that every animal counts,” Dinkelmeyer continued. “The studies are clear. If action is not finally taken, we will see their extinction. There are solutions, such as cage systems, whose tails are located on the seabed and only come to the surface after a radio signal. These alternatives must now be used quickly and comprehensively to reduce the deadly risk posed by fishing lines.”

The North Atlantic Smooth Whale (Eubalaena glacialis), also known as the Atlantic North Cape, is considered to be endangered according to the International Union for conservation of nature IUCN. They are slow swimmers, one reason why American whalers in the 19th century called them “right whales.” He was easy to catch and drifted to the surface of the water. Since its mass hunting, this whale species has hardly recovered, although it was already placed under protection in 1935.

IFAW - What´s that?

The IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) is a globally active non-profit organization for the better coexistence of animals and humans. We operate in more than 40 countries around the world and at sea. We rescue and care for animals, poach them again and preserve and protect their natural habitats. The problems we face are pressing and complex. To solve them, we need bold action and smart thinking. We work with communities, governments, other NGOs and businesses. Together we find new and innovative ways to develop all species in their habitat. Here’s how: