Washington, DC

Yesterday, a dead North Atlantic right whale was discovered four miles south of Fire Island inlet near Long Island, New York. The discovery is a devastating blow to the species, which numbers around 400 and has now lost at least nine whales—over 2% of the species—in 2019 alone. While no cause of death has yet been determined, ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements are responsible for the vast majority of recent right whale deaths.

Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement: 

“Scientists have determined that no more than a single right whale can be killed as a result of human activities annually for the species to have a chance at recovery. Yet in four short months, we’ve lost at least nine. Without immediate action to save these whales from entanglements and ship strikes, the right whale will be functionally extinct in our lifetime—and we’ll have only ourselves to blame.”


  • While North Atlantic right whales once numbered in the tens of thousands, there are now only around 400 surviving right whales, a number that is declining every year.
  • Today, there are only 95 surviving adult female right whales of reproductive age – fewer than there are U.S. senators.
  • Since June 2019, eight right whales have been killed, including four breeding-age females, as a direct result of human activity. Science tells us that only a fraction of right whale carcasses are ever found, meaning the actual number of human-caused mortalities is higher.
  • Only twelve calves have been born over the last three years. Deaths now outnumber births.
  • Right whales do not live to old age. The two causes of death in adult right whales are ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements. The stress of non-lethal entanglements is also delaying reproduction in adult females from one calf every 3-4 years to one every 10.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 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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Jake Bleich
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