Tragic News! A Vessel Strike Killed A Critically Endangered 20-Year-Old North Atlantic Right Whale In Virginia Last Sunday

A North Atlantic right whale that washed up on shore last Sunday was sadly killed by a vessel strike, NOAA Fisheries confirmed yesterday. The results of a necropsy determined the cause of death to be “catastrophic blunt force trauma,” and injuries included multiple vertebral fractures and separations that would have resulted in death shortly after the injury.

“This right whale’s violent death by vessel-caused blunt force trauma underscores that humans are responsible for all these preventable deaths,” Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “There is still time to save this species by expanding proven commonsense measures like seasonal vessel speed limits, but the extinction clock speeds up every time we kill another whale, and are awfully close to midnight.”

The whale, a 20-year-old male, was found near the entrance to a port in Virginia, although it is unclear where he was when he was hit. The port area has a 10-knot speed restriction in place, but the current speed rule extends only 20 miles from the port entrance, and military vessels and vessels under 65 feet in length are exempt from the restriction.

“Ongoing delays in improving protections are the reason we are losing right whales,” stated Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director of Whale and Dolphin Conservation. “Just like the promise of food is not going to keep you from starving, these whales can’t survive on the hope of future actions. They need protections now.”

In November of 2022, conservation groups filed an emergency rule making petition with NOAA Fisheries to protect North Atlantic right whales from being struck and killed by vessels in their calving grounds off the coast of the southeast United States. On January 20th, the agency denied the groups’ request for emergency action, stating that it intends to enhance the rule this coming year.

“This whale’s death is a tragic reminder of the constant danger North Atlantic right whales are facing,” noted Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Right whales desperately and immediately need more protections from vessel strikes and all the other human-caused threats facing the species, or they are likely to go extinct.”

Vessel strikes are one of two primary threats to the species’ existence, along with entanglements in commercial fishing gear. Right whales begin giving birth to calves around mid-November and the season lasts until mid-April. Both females and calves in southeastern waters are especially vulnerable during that time.

“Since 2017, at least 95 critically endangered right whales have been killed or injured by preventable human causes,” said Erica Fuller at Conservation Law Foundation. “Yet nothing has been done to reduce deadly vessel strikes. Right whales have been on this planet for millions of years and we are at risk of losing this entire species because of bureaucratic red tape. That cannot be allowed to continue.”

With a declining population of 340 individuals and only 70 breeding females, the North Atlantic right whale will almost certainly go extinct without key conservation measures. Current regulations are not sufficient to protect the whales, and changes proposed by NOAA Fisheries last August are unlikely to go into effect before the end of this year’s calving season.

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

More on this topic

Popular stories

China’s Ministry of Agriculture States That Dogs Are Pets and Not Livestock, Giving Hope To An End To The Dog Meat Trade

China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has for the first time ever explicitly stated that dogs are companion animals and not “livestock,” in...

Nearly 900 Dogs And Cats Caged And Brutally Used As Live Blood Bags In The Veterinarians’ Blood Bank

In a heartbreaking undercover investigation by PETA, dogs, cats, and stray kittens found through online ads and Facebook posts have ended up brutally used...

WAN Exclusive With Academy Award-Winner James Reed, Director Of The New Netflix Series ‘Chimp Empire’

The compelling and visually stunning documentary series Chimp Empire just debuted on Netflix and is a must-watch story of survival. The series takes viewers...