Protect Our Oceans

One of the baby right whales has been run over by a boat

One of this season's 9 right whale calves now likely to die of injuries consistent with a boat strike

Oceans

right whale at the surface
National Marine Sanctuaries via Flickr | Public Domain
Right whales spend a lot of time near the surface of the ocean, making them vulnerable to boat strikes

Just last week, we celebrated the sight of the 9th right whale baby of the year.

Now, one of those 9 calves is likely to die after suffering injuries consistent with getting run over by a boat.

This tragic news is unsurprising: North Atlantic right whale mothers and their calves are particularly vulnerable to boat strikes, since they spend most of their time at the surface of the water. If a boat doesn’t see the whales in time, it can easily result in a collision with devestating consequences for the critically endangered whales. That’s probably why we saw right whale calves die in 2020 and 2021 due to injuries consistent with vessel strikes.

But this news is also infuriating. We know what we can do to keep right whales and their babies safe from boat strikes: we can slow boats down.

Just like speeding drivers may not see a pedestrian beginning to cross the road, boat drivers moving quickly can have a hard time spotting the shape of a whale in the water from far away, leaving them too little time to avoid collision. Requiring boats to slow down when we know right whales are in town can keep our waters safer for these moms and their new babies.

Unfortunately, currently only large boats have to follow a mandatory seasonal speed limit (and not all of them do). We need to make sure all boats are going slow for whales. A recent NOAA proposal would work towards this goal, but it’s not yet final.

Hopefully by next year, newly born calves will be able to swim free from the threat of boat propellers. Giving these calves long, healthy lives is one of the ways we can make sure we don’t lose the species forever.

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