AWI Welcomes Introduction of Legislation to Protect North Atlantic Right Whales

An adult North Atlantic right whale and her calf swim in blue-green ocean waters.
Photo from Flickr by FWC NOAA

Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) applauds Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) for introducing today the Right Whale Coexistence Act to help protect the highly imperiled North Atlantic right whale. This legislation, formerly known as the SAVE Right Whales Act, would create a new grant program under the Department of Commerce and provide sustained funding through 2032 for collaborative projects among states, nongovernmental organizations, and industry leaders to reduce the impact of human activities on this critically endangered species.

North Atlantic right whales traverse the waters of the entire US East Coast—a habitat that is one of the most industrialized stretches of ocean in the world. They are at serious risk of extinction, largely due to entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes. As of late 2021, North Atlantic right whales numbered as few as 336 individuals, the smallest population in the last 20 years. At least 50 whales, including three calves, have been killed or seriously injured since 2017.

North Atlantic right whales are extremely vulnerable to being caught in the vertical buoy lines used in lobster and crab trapping gear. Entanglement can lead to drowning, reduced mobility, and, in some cases, a long, painful death from starvation. Right whales also face the risk of being struck by vessels of all sizes, causing death or serious injury, such as blunt force trauma, propeller cuts, and broken bones.

State and tribal agencies; research institutions; nonprofit organizations; vessel owners and operators; members of maritime industries, such as fishing, shipping, and boating; and any other entity with the required expertise for right whale conservation may apply for the $15 million annual grant program. The bill prioritizes projects that involve the private sector and will provide economic benefits to US small businesses. It also requires periodic reports to Congress on the results and effectiveness of the program. 

Commercial whaling of North Atlantic right whales nearly drove the species to extinction in the early 20th century. After commercial hunts were banned in 1935, the species began to slowly rebound. The passage of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the early 1970s further helped the whales’ recovery, but they are now increasingly imperiled due to an increase in human activities within their habitat.

“The fate of North Atlantic right whales rests in our hands,” said AWI President Cathy Liss. “The Right Whale Coexistence Act takes a pivotal step forward by prioritizing and investing in innovative solutions to reduce human impacts on this cherished species. With the population at its lowest number in more than 20 years, we must act now before it is too late. We are grateful for Senator Booker and Congressman Moulton’s steadfast leadership and hope Congress moves quickly to pass this crucial legislation.”

Media Contact Information

Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
margie@awionline.org, (202) 446-2128

The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.

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