A second right whale was found dead off of the East Coast due to a vessel strike, NOAA says

By Nina Campanello

Image courtesy of MGN

A 1-year-old North Atlantic right whale was found dead in Savannah, Georgia on Tuesday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the death was due to a “vessel strike” after doing a necropsy. The right whale was found “heavily scavenged by sharks.”

This is the second death of a right whale in the span of one month, and it is worrying as the species is endangered. On Jan. 28, a 3-year-old female right whale washed up on the shore of Martha’s Vineyard. The preliminary results of the 3-year-old’s necropsy from the NOAA showed chronic entanglement from a fishing rope traced back to Maine. 

Researchers say that North Atlantic right whales have suffered a “steady decline” since 2011. The leading causes of death for these whales are vessel strikes and fishing line entanglements. 

“This latest right whale death is drawing more attention to the urgent need for implementing stronger measures to protect these animals from vessel strikes. Documenting two right whale vessel strikes in just the last month is nothing short of devastating for this critically endangered species,” said Dr. Jessica Redfern, Associate Vice President of Ocean Conservation Science at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium. 

Redfern has studied vessel strikes on whales for more than a decade, and has published research showing the need for vessel speed restrictions and ropeless fishing equipment to help prevent the extinction of large whales.

The NOAA proposed changes to the federal vessel speed rule, including expanding the areas it covers, increasing seasonal speed restrictions, extending restrictions to include vessels measuring 35 to 65 feet, and placing speed restrictions where whales are regularly spotted. These changes were proposed in July, and have yet to be finalized.

“Scientific research shows NOAA’s revisions to the vessel speed rule will help protect right whales from vessel strikes. Finalizing this rule and expediting the broad adoption of on-demand (ropeless) fishing gear are urgently needed to prevent the extinction of this species,” said Redfern.