Right Whale Found Dead in U.S. Waters

First death of 2020 likely due to ship strike

Right whale - protect right whales from vessel strikes

Photo: Brian Skerry

June 25, 2020 (BOSTON, MA) – Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) released the following statement today after the first reported right whale death in U.S. waters this year. According to sources, a fresh carcass was found this morning off the coast of New Jersey. Given the condition and location of the carcass, the most likely cause is a ship strike.

“This death is a tragedy,” said Erica Fuller, CLF Senior Attorney. “Like most of the right whales before it, this one didn’t die of natural causes. NOAA must take the threat of ship strikes seriously. We urgently need more surveillance of whale habitats and mandatory vessel speed restrictions in these areas as soon as possible.” 

While NOAA has slowly begun to address the risk to right whales from fishing gear, the same attention hasn’t been paid to the threats from ship strikes. Fishery managers have the authority to implement speed restrictions for ships in emerging right whale habitats, and they are obligated to act under the circumstances here.   

Only about 400 North Atlantic right whales are left in our oceans, and scientists estimate that the right whale population can only afford about one death per year to avoid extinction. But tragically, in the last three years alone, more than thirty right whales have died in the US and Canada from entanglements in fishing gear and ship strikes.

CLF experts are available for further comment.