North Atlantic Right Whale Conservation
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, with a population of approximately 400 individuals. Commercial whaling in the late 1800s decimated the whales. Since whaling was banned in 1935, mortality from ship collisions and entanglement in commercial fishing gear has limited the population’s recovery.
Each winter, right whales migrate from waters off the northeastern U.S. and Canada to calving grounds along the coast of Georgia and northeastern Florida. An average of 24 calves has been documented each year since 2001, compared with 11 calves per year from 1980-2000. A record 39 calves were documented in the winter of 2008-2009. While the population is increasing at an annual rate of 2 percent, there are still fewer than 100 breeding females in the population.
For more than two decades, DNR has collaborated with various federal, state and private organizations to conserve North Atlantic right whales. Management actions have focused on reducing human-related mortality and protecting right whale habitat. Each December through March, the Nongame Conservation Section and EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust) conduct extensive aerial surveys to document calf production and warn ships about whale locations. The Nongame Conservation Section participates in various on-the-water management and research efforts, including whale disentanglement, photo-identification studies, genetics sampling, whale tagging studies and injury/mortality investigations.
Since 2004, Nongame staff have helped disentangle eight right whales and participated in five injury/mortality investigations. The 2008-2009 season proved particularly busy when five entangled right whales were documented and disentangled. Most of the fishing gear removed from right whales in the Southeast U.S. appears to be from trap/pot fisheries in the northeast U.S. and Canada.
Nongame staff also works to protect right whales and their habitat through involvement in the Right Whale Southeast Implementation Team and the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. The section receives considerable support from the DNR Coastal Resources Division and Wildlife Resources Division’s Law Enforcement Section in education and outreach, policy efforts, and enforcement of federal right whale protections.
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