Saving the North Atlantic right whale

On the brink of extinction

Once plentiful, the North Atlantic right whale was hunted nearly to extinction. While no longer killed intentionally, ongoing threats from entanglements in commercial fishing gear and collisions with vessels have again driven the species to the brink. Fewer than 340 North Atlantic right whales remain, making them one of the most endangered whale species on Earth. The Southeast U.S., in particular, is the only place on the planet the whales are known to give birth and raise their young.

These magnificent whales are barely hanging on. We know what we must do to save this species, yet these whales suffer needless deaths off our coast. If we don’t find the political will to take meaningful action now, we could lose these whales forever.

Sierra Weaver, Senior Attorney and leader of SELC’s Coast & Wetlands Team

Protecting whales in court

North Atlantic right whales already face extraordinary manmade threats in the ocean, and offshore drilling would have introduced another. To locate potential oil deposits, seismic-blasting boats bombard the ocean with sound waves so loud they can disrupt the whales’ ability to communicate and feed. We went to court to prevent these companies from launching their boats. The seismic companies later said they would not seek permits to map the Atlantic seabed.

More work to do

The threat of offshore oil exploration has ended for now, but right whales are still in peril. SELC is working with partners to address the leading and emerging threats to the species and their migratory route and calving grounds. We have weighed in on the need to implement critical policy solutions to protect them from entanglements in commercial fishing gear. We are also attempting to eliminate the risk of whales being injured by vessels in Southeast waters through common-sense measures like slowing down vessels.  While these efforts have been effective where they apply, they need to be expanded to cover larger areas and more vessel classes. Finally, we are working hard to ensure that future offshore wind development on the Mid- and South Atlantic Coasts proceeds with essential protections for these vulnerable whales.