Right Whale Report Card 2016

The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, a coalition of more than 100 organizations and government agencies in the United States and Canada, released the 2016 Right Whale Report Card covering activities from November 2015 through October 2016. The report card, issued since 2004, includes updates on the status of the cataloged population, mortality and entanglement events, and a summary of current management and research efforts that have occurred over the previous 12 months.  

A drop in reproduction among North Atlantic Right Whales has researchers worried. NOAA photo

The population remained flat over the past year, with the most recent estimate at 524 whales. There were 14 new calves born in 2016, but one was lost, and four first time mothers. There were seven entanglements observed, of which six were new, and two resulted in mortality. There was one new vessel strike which was lethal. There were four right whale deaths during this period, as noted two were from entanglement, one from vessel strike, and one was of unknown cause.  

 

Right Whale Population Status 
 2016 2015 2014 2010 2006 
Best Estimate* 524 526 522 473 396 
New calves 13 17 11 19 19 
First time mothers 
Avg calving interval 6.6 years 5.54 years 4.4 years 3.3 years 3.2 years 
Mortalities 

(1 F, 1 M, 2 unk) 

(2 Ent, 1 VS, 1 unk) 

(2 female, 1 unk) 

3  

(1 male, 2 unk) 

(2 male, 3 unk) 

5  

(2 female, 1 male, 1 unk) 

Vessel strikes 1 (lethal) 
Entanglements 7 (6 new) 

(2 dead, 2 entangled, 2 gear free;  

1 unknown status) 

8 (5 new) 

(6 still entangled w/ 1 in poor condition; 2 gear free) 

10 (7 new) 

(2 deaths) 

6 (4 new) 

 

11 (4 new) 

 

* Year of Report Card; population estimated for previous year 

 

The 2016 Report Card notes the continued dramatic shifts in right whale distribution and habitat use over the last several years resulting in researchers sighting fewer right whales. For example, there were only 94 sightings in the Gulf of Maine and one in Roseway Basin, while 768 were sighted in Cape Cod Bay and 110 around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The NARWC recommends prioritizing the identification of potential new habitats and critical habitats and developing alternative survey effort strategies. 

 

Year Sightings (unique whales) Survey Effort (1,000km) % population observed 
2000 3,085 (245) 125 72% 
2005 3,398 (360) 340 86% 
2010 3,224 (428) 263 85% 
2013 1,906 (280) 212 56% 
2014 2,389 (361) 200 72% 
2015 1,766 (250) 183 51% 

 

The Report Card now monitors the health of injured right whales. As of June 2016, researchers documented 60 injured whales; 49 are entanglement related and 10 are related to vessel strikes. Twenty six of these injured whales have shown a decline in condition.  

Finally, the report highlights the issues of most significant concern as fishing gear entanglement and declining reproductive rates. It states, “Current management regulations have not been effective at reducing serious entanglement injuries (Pace et al. 2014) and since 2010, entanglement related deaths accounted for 85% of diagnosed mortalities (Kraus et al. 2016). Entanglements reduce survival probability for right whales and moderate and severe injuries from entanglement are increasing (Robbins et al. 2015; Knowlton et al. 2016). In addition to entanglement threats to this population, reproductive output has declined by 40% since 2010 (Kraus et al. 2016). The reasons for this decline are unclear. However, this trend coupled with the continued (and perhaps increasing) impact of entanglements must serve as a call to action for immediate intervention to reduce entanglement mortalities and injury in both Canada and the United States.” 

 

The full text of the Right Whale Report Card can be accessed at www.narwc.org