The sun might have been setting Friday night on Boston Harbor, but a schooner of 80 Women Working for Oceans (W2O) members and their friends were just getting started by raising the sails to kick off year-long deep dive dedicated to saving our iconic North Atlantic right whale. After last year’s unprecedented 17 right whale deaths from both entanglements in fishing gear and ship strikes, the North Atlantic right whale is now considered among the most endangered of marine animals in our ocean.
The message of the evening is one of empowerment. “We humans hold the power to save the right whale, through increased research and new technology along with digging into our hearts. We can stop the killing and save this intelligent and family oriented whale,” said co-founder and W2O Director Barbara Burgess.
W2O members and their guests were joined onboard the Liberty Clipper by Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life of the New England Aquarium’s right whale researcher Monica Zani, who has been studying these animals for over two decades.
Zani explained the challenges facing these whales, aptly named because of its size, ability to float, an abundance of oil, and slow speed targeted by whalers in the 18th century as the “right whale” to kill. Some of these same characteristics pose challenges now as this whale lives in urban areas along the eastern seaboard, putting it in the pathway of lobster and crab traps, shipping lanes, and other man-made pollution.
Since the 70s the entire population of North Atlantic right whales have been identified and tracked through a catalog maintained at the New England Aquarium with contributions by the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. The animals are identified by physical markings, like color, fluke shape and health. This allows researchers to trace family groups, births and deaths, as well as the individual health of specific whales over time, including where they migrate to for calving, how they feed, and other life-history traits important to protecting a species.
W2O Member Leigh Tappen provided a family tree of four generations of right whales, underscoring the loss that even one female represents for the future of the species. As Zani summarized, paraphrasing Dr. Scott Krause also of the Anderson Cabot Center, helping the right whale recover is something we already know how to do. “We simply need to stop killing them,” she said.
The will to help our North Atlantic right whale among W2O members and friends is strong. A heart-felt thank you to guests on our sunset sail, who started off this year right by signing over sixty letters to thank Senator Elizabeth Warren for her work in co-sponsoring the Save Right Whales Act of 2018. If passed into law this act will allot $5 million per year over ten years (2018-2028) in federal funds for conservation programs. The act aims to fund research for solutions that will reduce the lethal effects of entanglements in fishing gear and vessel collisions, the first and second leading cause of right whale deaths respectively.
Partnering with Lobstermen
This past summer, W2O and the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life met with the heads of the New England’s lobsterman associations including Executive Director of the Massachusetts Lobsterman Association Beth Casoni, Executive Director of Maine Lobstermen’s Association Patrice McCarron, Supervisor of Marine Programs
NH Fish and Game Department Cheri Patterson, Erin Burke from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and Erin Summers, Director, Division of Biological Monitoring Maine Department of Marine Resources to learn more about one of New England’s oldest and most sustainable seafood industries: lobstering. It was an inspiring day of information sharing about the lobster population and their thoughts on difficulties facing the right whale.
Will You Help?
Please help us protect our marine treasures and heritage and defend the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the first marine monument in the Atlantic, from being opened up to fishing by signing and sharing this petition in your networks. Read more about what’s at stake in this editorial by New England Aquarium CEO Vikki Spruill.
Blog contributor and W2O Dir. Laura Parker Roerden is Executive Director and Founder of Ocean Matters