Over the last month two endangered North Atlantic Right Whales were found dead along the eastern seaboard of the United States, adding to the list of deceased right whales from human causes.  The 2024 total, estimated between 4 and 5, far exceeds the current allowable maximum that NOAA estimates the population can sustain, 0.7 individuals.

Of these two, the first was found dead at the end of January near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and after a lengthy retrieval and necropsy process was identified to have died from entanglement in lobster pot buoy ropes.  This three-year-old calf was first identified with rope entangled around the tail fin in August of 2022, which tightened around the tail as it grew.  A sample of the rope removed from the whale during the necropsy was identified with rope consistent from the Maine state waters lobster fishery.

The second whale was found floating offshore of Savannah, GA, on February 13th.  Less than three years old, the necropsy on this juvenile NARW identified signs of blunt force trauma on the head consistent with a vessel strike.

These two whales, in addition to three other calves either expected to have died or suffered severe injuries, mean that 5 NARW so far this year have likely died due to human causes.

The loss of these young whales serve as a stark reminder of the suffering fishing rope entanglements and vessel strikes have on large whales and the dire impacts they have on the endangered North Atlantic Right Whales population.  Through the support and cooperation of all involved stakeholders (consumers, retailers, processors, harvesters, and managers, transportation authorities, etc.) there is time to implement the tools and practices that minimize entanglement and vessel strike risk to large whales while promoting a long-lasting lobster fishery.