Washington, D.C.

Today, the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium announced that the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale’s population – now at 340, down from 348 – continues its decade-long decline. The species’ population has plummeted by 30% in the last decade, down from 481 in 2011. The latest estimate represents the whale’s lowest population estimate in 20 years.

“We have the tools and knowledge to stop this precipitous decline, but policymakers have eschewed taking effective action for years,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “In that time, the right whale population has been decimated by fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes. We are watching – and causing – the species’ extinction in real-time.”

In their report, the scientists also expressed concern about the 15 calves born in 2022. The number is lower than the 18 born in 2021 and far below the average of 24 calves per year in the early 2000s. There were also no first-time mothers in the group, which supports the findings of a new paper on breeding females showing a downward trend in the number of female right whales capable of breeding. Research has also found concerning evidence of declining body size, in part due to frequent entanglements in fishing gear, with smaller female right whales producing fewer calves.

2022 North Atlantic Right Whale Population
North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium

Commercial fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes account for nearly all right whale deaths in the last decade. This year, there have been five whales entangled and seen with fishing gear attached. At least five others are known to have interacted with fishing gear, with entanglement injuries significant enough to cause wounds and scars. There was also one detected vessel strike to a right whale in 2022. However, scientists estimate that only one-third of mortalities and mortal injuries are observed annually, the true death toll is higher.  

When right whales get tangled in fishing gear, they can drown immediately or die over an extended period from injuries, infections and/or starvation. Even nonfatal entanglements sap whales of strength and decrease reproductive success. Chronic entanglements in heavy gear drain a whale's energy, so much so that it now takes females nearly 10 years between births to have another calf. Experts estimate that over 86% of right whales have been entangled at least once.

“With this new population estimate, the species number is now down to what it was around 2001. In the ensuing decade, the population increased by 150 whales; that tells us this species can recover if we stop injuring and killing them,” said Philip Hamilton, senior scientist at the New England Aquarium and the identification database curator for the Consortium.

Right whale mother and calf March 20, 2010
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA Research Permit # 594-1759


Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

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Anchorage, AK

Biden Administration Restores Roadless Area Protections to Tongass National Forest

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reinstated the national Roadless Area Conservation Rule in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The move restricts development on roughly 9.3 million acres in North America’s largest temperate rainforest.
Humpback whale breaching Stellwagen Bank MA
Washington, D.C.

Vessel Strikes to Blame for Series of Whale Deaths?

On a cold winter beach in New Jersey, onlookers huddled around a 30-foot dead humpback whale lying on the sand. This was one of more than a dozen whales that have washed up on beaches along the U.S. East Coast since the beginning of December 2022. Five of these whales washed up in New Jersey, two in New York and others on the coasts of states from Maine to Florida. A total of 178 humpback whales have washed up along East Coast beaches since 2016, leading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare an “unusual mortality event.” An investigation is underway.