Photo: Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research, NOAA permit #20556-01
The calf hit fatally had been observed in December with his mother, off the coast of the State of Georgia.
The first right whale killed this year in the north Atlantic was in fact a calf barely a few months. The animal has been struck twice by vessels in the space of a few weeks, off the u.s. east coast. This endangered species is yet the object of protection measures, including in the gulf of St. Lawrence. But many ships do not comply with the speed limits, especially in canadian waters.
According to the results of the postmortem examination released on Monday by the u.s. Agency for ocean observation and atmospheric (NOAA), the young male showed signs of ” two collisions separated with ships “. Firstly, he had been struck and torn by a propeller of a boat. This first collision would have severely injured the animal, which has been struck and torn ” a few weeks later “. These are the last injuries caused by a vessel which had caused the death of this young right whales, concludes NOAA.
The organization, which carries out a constant monitoring of this population is particularly threatened, took advantage of the opportunity to announce the forthcoming release of a report that will assess the magnitude of risk in commercial navigation, but also the effectiveness of the measures put in place over the years to protect right whales of the north Atlantic.
Measure ” voluntary “
Canada itself has had to put in place unprecedented measures of protection of the right whale, after the deaths outstanding of these animals in the gulf of Saint-Laurent in 2017. A fishing zone can be closed if a whale is observed, and speed limits have been imposed in some areas. Transport Canada has however expected of the shipping lanes, where ships can move at full speed, in particular in the passage used by right whales to enter the gulf.
What’s more, according to data available Tuesday, Transport Canada has already identified this year a total of 156 ships “moving at a speed greater than 10 knots” in speed zones in the gulf. But “no penalty has been imposed, and 43 cases are under review,” says the ministry.
The canadian government has also added this year a “test area voluntary restriction of speed” in the Cabot strait, between the north-eastern tip of Nova Scotia and the south-western tip of the island of Newfoundland. But according to an analysis by the organization Oceana, Canada, between 19 and 25 may, close to three-quarters of the vessels — 72 % — have not complied with the slowing to 10 knots. And it is a canadian cargo vessel that holds the record, at 21.1 knots, according to Oceana Canada.
“Studies have shown that a speed limit of 10 knots is in force throughout the season in some areas, reduces the risk of collisions with vessels of 86 %. Ships must move more slowly through the habitat of the whales, ” said the environmental group, publishing its analysis earlier in June.
Until now, in 2020, no right whale, however, was not found dead in the gulf of St. Lawrence, a region where we can observe up to 25 % of the entire population in the summer period. It is a good news for the government, since the measures of protection of the species in place in canadian waters are essential for protecting access to a u.s. market is vital for the fishermen, and particularly for snow crab and lobster. In fact, there is a law in the United States that allows the country to “ban the import” of fishery products if the industry is putting in danger the marine mammals. Of the elected democrats and republicans have argued in favor of such an embargo, relying on the case of right whales.
The situation of the right whale, which is mostly the victim of collisions with ships and entanglements in fishing gear, has worsened in recent years, in particular due to mortalities exceptional in canadian waters. In 2017, no less than 17 whales, adults have been found dead, 12 in canadian waters. A total of 10 whales have died in 2019, including a female that was entangled at least four times in 15 years.
This may not seem like much, but it must be said that this population, which was almost exterminated by commercial whaling, would amount today to approximately 400 animals. And the NOAA calculates that a total of 31 whales have died in three years, in more than a dozen whales observed entangled or ” severely injured “. “This represents about 10 % of the population, which implies a significant negative impact to a species in critical danger,” insists the organization.
The efforts of recent decades have, however, demonstrated that it was possible to grow the population. There were only 275 individuals in the early 1990s. But thanks to significant safeguards in place in us waters, including changes to road navigation, rules for the commercial fishery, as well as a monitoring system, the population had reached 500 individuals in 2010.
Declining birth rates
This year, ten calves have been observed along the east coast. This figure is well below the average of recent years, with the exception of the season 2017-2018, during which no calf was seen on the day. Over the period 2007-2017, the annual average was 18 calves, with peaks in the 22 in 2013, 22 in 2011 and 39 in 2009.
According to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, which includes canadian and u.s. scientists, the rate of reproduction has declined substantially in recent years, so much so that ” the low birth each year have eliminated the ability of the population to grow and face up to the mortality caused by humans “.
According to the researchers at the New England Aquarium, it is possible, in some cases, females who have experienced an entanglement in fishing gear are not able to reproduce, because of the significant impact on their physical condition.
“A lot of females may be unable to accumulate enough fat to succeed to get pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term due to possible reductions in the availability of food and an increased effort to find food “, also highlights the NARWC. Female right whales usually give birth to their calves between late November and early march, mainly off the coasts of the States of Georgia and Florida.
A ” WHALE URBAN “
The right whale can reach a length of 18 metres, for a weight of over 60 tonnes. Each individual is identified by the white spots unique as it focuses on the head, called callosities. It is a species that mainly feeds on copepods, small crustaceans that it filters using its baleen plates. The right whale is sometimes referred to as ” whale city, since she lives near the coast, especially during the period of calving, off the u.s. States of Georgia and Florida. This makes it particularly vulnerable to collisions with ships and entanglements in fishing gear. Named the “Right whale” in English, it has been decimated by centuries of commercial whaling. She was a prime target for whalers because it floats when dead, and that it provides a good amount of fat, this material that was melted to produce the oil.