Endangered right whale population continues to drop in Atlantic

A North Atlantic right whale known as Half Note and her calf are seen off Georgia in January 2022. Researchers say not enough calves are being born each winter for the population to sustain itself.
  • Right whales, distinguished by their v-shaped blows and white growths on their heads, are critically endangered.
  • Only 15 calves were born last winter, a steep decline below the average of 24 calves seen in the early 2000s.
  • In the past decade, the whale population has seen a 28% drop.
  • To protect the endangered whales, the NOAA is working on new rules to restrict fisheries and boat speeds.

North American right whales continue to decline in number, dropping to an estimated 340 of the critically endangered marine mammals, according to a report released Monday.

Down from an estimated 348 last year, it’s the smallest annual decline in six years for one of the world’s most endangered large whale populations, but it’s still a loss of more than 110 whales in just five years.

The latest estimates prompted renewed calls from scientists and conservation organizations to do more to protect the whales, which can sometimes be seen close to shore in Canada, New England and the Southeast.

Population estimates come from the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, a group of more than 200 individuals with whale conservation and research organizations, US and Canadian agencies, and the shipping and fishing industries. The consortium begins its two-day annual meeting Tuesday to work on its annual “report card.”

“While it is certainly good to see the slope of the slow trajectory, the unfortunate reality is that the species continues to trend downward,” said Heather Pettis, the consortium’s executive administrator and a research scientist in the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life.