North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) are highly endangered. Less than 500 North Atlantic right whales live in the wild. Close to 350 of them live in the East Coast of North America. The whale continues to be endangered but thanks to conservation measures like the acoustic stations its population more than tripled in a century.
Apart from indirect negative Human effects such as warming sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification which threaten the food source of whales, there are immediate direct threats including collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear. Highly influential marine conservationist Jacques Yves Cousteau has highlighted this problem in his 1981 documentary “Cries from the Deep”. Mariners are urged to report sightings of entangled whales to the Coast Guard immediately and stand by the animal at a safe and legal distance. Attempts to disentangle any marine mammal without proper training and authority may be subject to prosecution and may result in injury to both animals and humans. It is illegal to approach right whales within 500 yards in U.S. waters without a scientific research permit.
REPORT WHALE ENTANGLEMENTS TO 1-800-900-3622
To help ships avoid endangered right whales a number of “smart buoys” have been deployed in Massachusetts Bay. These buoys listen for whale calls all day, every day. Frequent alerts let ship captains know where and when to slow down–and save a whale. You can check-out a near-realtime map that shows these listening stations and see it yourself if a whale has been heard within 24 hours.
The right whale listening network is the product of years of research and collaboration by many experts. Sound detection and analysis was pioneered by researchers at the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bioacoustics Research Program. Building a quiet, recording-compatible buoy sturdy enough to withstand harsh New England winters took the expertise of the Mooring Operations, Engineering, and Field Support Group at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Intimate knowledge of right whale populations and habits was obtained through decades of exhaustive research by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the New England Aquarium and the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.
Managers of the National Marine Fisheries Service and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary worked with other U.S. government agencies to realign Boston shipping lanes to reduce the likelihood of ships colliding with whales. They also worked with the licensing agencies for the Northeast Gateway Deepwater Port to further reduce the operational risk of ship strikes, resulting in the design of the buoy listening and monitoring system. Excelerate Energy, L.L.C., has contracted the work on the buoy network. The company has trained all its crew members to watch for marine mammals and sea turtles as the vessel travels to and from the port. The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries supported early work on prototypes and made possible the similar three-buoy array in Cape Cod Bay.