Protect Our Oceans

Right whale washes ashore in Martha’s Vineyard

The loss of a juvenile female right whale is a blow for the species' survival


NOAA Public Library | Public Domain

January 2024 has been a rough month for the North Atlantic right whale. While the month has brought welcome news of even more baby right whale sightings (bringing the calving season’s total births up to 16), already scientists fear three of those calves won’t make it.

This week, the bad news kept coming: a dead juvenile female right whale washed ashore at Martha’s Vineyard, and early reports indicate that it was entangled in fishing gear when it died. For a species that risks extinction if even one whale dies due to human causes per year, this is terrible news: we’ve potentially already exceeded the maximum number of deaths barely a month into the year. Even worse, with only 70 breeding females left in the population, we need every female whale to live a long life.

While scientists work to understand the final cause of death for this young right whale, we know that there is more we can do to ensure whales don’t keep washing up dead on our beaches. We can strengthen our federal rules designed to prevent boat strikes like the one that fatally injured one of the new babies earlier this month. We can also urge companies and policy makers to call for the use of new, whale-safe ropeless fishing gear that eliminates most of the risk to whales posed by entanglement. 

We know what it takes to save these whales, and ensure that whales of all kinds can roam our seas more safely. We just need to do it.

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