Yesterday, the United States House of Representatives approved an amendment to the fiscal year 2021 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill, increasing funding for monitoring and researching the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale by $1.5 million.
The additional funds will also help develop and test new anti-entanglement technologies, like ropeless fishing gear.
This is especially critical following the announcement earlier this month that the North Atlantic right whale was moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered on the recently updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The amendment, co-sponsored by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Rep. Golden (D-Maine), Rep. Rutherford (R-Fla.), and Rep. Posey (R-Fla.), increases total funding for the right whale to $6.5 million.
“Forty-one right whales since 2017 have died or been critically injured. That represents 10% of all the right whales we have left on planet Earth. We can choose to act and be the generation that brings this species back from the brink, or, the one that stands by as it goes extinct,” Rep. Moulton shared in a post on his Facebook page. “I’m choosing action through the SAVE Right Whales Act and an amendment to increase funding for right whale research.”
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered large whale species. Fewer than 400 survive today, with only 95 females of breeding age. Once hunted by generations of European and New England whalers, the North Atlantic right whale continues to face human-caused dangers along the eastern seaboard of Canada and the United States.
“We are grateful that representatives on both sides of the aisle and from across our nation recognize the North Atlantic right whale’s dire situation and are responding with action. However, funding is only half the battle,” Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “We urge Congress to pass the SAVE Right Whales Act, allowing the government, fishing and shipping industries, and nongovernmental organizations to organize and protect the right whale from extinction.”
Even when entanglements are not fatal, they often maim whales or prevent them from building adequate fat stores, limiting females’ ability to birth calves.
Females and calves are also uniquely vulnerable to vessel strikes. Out of 10 right whale calves born in the 2019-20 calving season, two have already been killed by vessel strikes and their mothers have not been resighted since.