Today, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted an amendment to the fiscal year 2021 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill, increasing funding for monitoring and researching the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale by $1.5 million. The additional funds will also help develop and test new anti-entanglement technologies, like ropeless fishing gear. The amendment, co-sponsored by Rep. Moulton (D-Mass.), Rep. Golden (D-Maine), Rep. Rutherford (R-Fla.), and Rep. Posey (R-Fla.), increases total funding for the right whale to $6.5 million.
Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:
“We are grateful that representatives on both sides of the aisle and from across our nation recognize the North Atlantic right whale’s dire situation and are responding with action. However, funding is only half the battle. We urge Congress to pass the SAVE Right Whales Act, allowing the government, fishing and shipping industries, and nongovernmental organizations to organize and protect the right whale from extinction.”
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered large whale species. Fewer than 400 survive today, with only 95 females of breeding age. Once hunted by generations of European and New England whalers, the North Atlantic right whale continues to face human-caused dangers along the eastern seaboard of Canada and the United States. Since 2017, there have been 41 confirmed right whale deaths and serious injuries (i.e., live whales with injuries likely to cause death) due to entanglements with commercial fishing gear and vessel strikes.
The threats are omnipresent—one study found 85% of right whales bear scars from past entanglements. Even when entanglements are not fatal, they often maim whales or prevent them from building adequate fat stores, limiting females’ ability to birth desperately-needed calves. Females and calves are also uniquely vulnerable to vessel strikes. Out of 10 right whale calves born in the 2019-20 calving season, two have already been killed by vessel strikes and their mothers have not been resighted since.