North Atlantic Right Whale Conservation Program
Photo taken under NOAA research permit #15488.
The North Atlantic right whale, Eubalaena glacialis, is one of the most endangered marine animals in the ocean. Only about 400 whales are estimated to be left in the population. They are federally-protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and listed as endangered by the IUCN.
Right whales were once found throughout the North Atlantic Ocean, and they were prized by early whalers due to their slow swimming speeds, coastal habitat use, and thick blubber. They were deemed the “right” whale to hunt, thus the name. By the early 1700s, right whale numbers were so reduced that they were no longer of economic importance.
Recovery of the species has been slow for multiple reasons, including a slow reproductive rate and threats from human-related activities, including collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear. The busy eastern seaboard contains large ports and experiences heavy volumes of cargo ship traffic, as well as extensive use by fisherman, lobsterman, and others making their living from the sea. This habitat is shared with the North Atlantic right whale.
CMA Right Whale Conservation Program
The CMA Right Whale Conservation Program with funding from Georgia Department of Natural Resources and NOAA actively monitors right whales during calving season through aerial surveys designed to mitigate ship collisions and document reproductive rates, provide scientific data to marine decision makers on conserving the species, provide aerial support to assist efforts to disentangle whales from fishing gear, locate carcasses for recovery and necropsies, and assist with locating whales for genetic sampling and satellite tagging.
Aerial survey teams monitor right whales.
Additionally, our researchers have been active on the management and conservation side of the issue through the NOAA Atlantic Scientific Review Group and past participation in the NOAA Large Whale Take Reduction Team. Monitoring data from our surveys have been used by management agencies to help in determine appropriate boundaries of critical habitats, speed zones, and other protection measures.
Our main right whale research project consists of right whale aerial surveys in the Southeastern U.S. The winter calving grounds off this area were first designated as critical habitats for right whales in 1994 and then revised in 2016.
CMA right whale staff are world class scientists who have been involved in right whale research and conservation activities for more than twenty years.
Impacts of the Right Whale Conservation Program
Long term conservation solutions require both short- and long-term strategies and monitoring. From December through March, our expert team monitors the right whale population. Here are a few of the impacts:
Timing is essential in providing life-saving solutions.
- Daily aerial monitoring enables CMA researchers to notify mariners in real-time to the presence of right whales
- Daily aerial monitoring enables CMA researchers to notify first-responders in real time of a whale entangled in fishing gear.
- Provide solid datasets with sample sizes large enough for managers to make sound and effective management decisions; this is especially true when dealing with a highly endangered species.
- Our years of survey effort along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts were used to help define the boundary for seasonal speed restrictions on large vessels in the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions.
- After nine years of monitoring along the northern Georgia and South Carolina coasts, survey results were used to support the proposal for a critical habitat expansion in that regions.