North Atlantic right whales are facing imminent extinction

North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered, with only about 400 left in the world. Historically, hunting led to near extinction of this majestic species. Now, their biggest threats include getting entangled in fishing gear and struck by vessels. Canada needs a plan to make sure we don’t drive North Atlantic right whales to extinction — one that enables them to recover in number.

On May 5, 2020, Fisheries and Oceans Canada published a draft Action Plan for the recovery of the North Atlantic right whale to fulfill its commitment to protect this species. But the actions listed are not enough, and we need everyone in Canada to step up and help in their recovery.

North Atlantic right whale with calf.
© Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF

These large whales — they can grow up to 16 metres long — migrate as they follow their food source, a tiny animal called the copepod. Many North Atlantic right whales spend summer and fall in Canadian waters along the eastern seaboard and migrate to southern waters off the United States during the winter.

Until recently, North Atlantic right whales had been frequenting the same areas regularly, where there were measures in place to protect them. As a result, the number of right whales was increasing and there was hope for the survival of this iconic species. But due to changing oceanic conditions that include warming, copepods and the North Atlantic right whales that eat them have shifted north in recent years. This has expanded their range to areas like the Gulf of St Lawrence where humans use the ocean for shipping and fishing, and where strong protection measures for the whales are not in place.

Thirty whales — almost 10 percent of the population — were killed between 2017–2019 in Canadian and US waters, with over half (21) of those deaths occurring on the Canadian side. An additional 10 whales were seriously injured. Because of these tragic losses, the Government of Canada implemented several new measures, including closing some fisheries in certain areas, and limiting ship speeds in others.

North Atlantic right whales have been endangered for a long time, and the draft Action Plan has been long awaited. But what’s in it is not enough, and we are running out of time. No more whales should be killed or seriously injured. We need a plan that considers the current state of the population rather than outdated science, outlines targets for reducing the threat from human activities, and clearly shows the many benefits of protecting the whales.

And we need your help to do it.

The Canadian government is looking for public feedback on its Action Plan. Let them know you want them to save North Atlantic right whales from extinction by sending the government a message at this site: ACT NOW!