Right Whales

Air Guns Threaten Right Whale Extinction

In June 2017, NOAA Fisheries published proposed whale protections for the surveys. By winter the division’s biologists saw a problem: The protections for the North Atlantic right whale were too weak and put airguns in their direct path.

The agency had proposed a seasonal ban on using airguns up to 47 kilometers (about 29 miles) from shore between November and April, when the whales were known to migrate and give birth along the mid- and south-Atlantic coast.

But peer-reviewed research led by a NOAA Fisheries analyst concluded the whales were traveling farther from shore than ever before — and directly into the path of the proposed survey activity. A draft report for the Navy reached a similar conclusion.

Right Whale Calving Down Again

Highly endangered North Atlantic right whales number about 500 individuals. They’re so-named because their slow-moving, shore-hugging habits and tendency to float when dead made them the “right” whale to kill. They were hunted to near extinction by the early 1900s.