“At Sea and in Court, the Fight to Save Right Whales Intensifies”

“As numbers of North Atlantic right whales keep declining because of entanglements with fishing gear and fatal ship strikes, conservationists are using acoustic technology and waging an escalating legal battle to push for more aggressive action to protect the world’s rarest cetacean.”

“Artie Raslich has been volunteering for seven years with the conservation group Gotham Whale, working on the American Princess, a whale-watching boat based in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. In that time Raslich, a professional photographer, has glimpsed a North Atlantic right whale, the world’s rarest cetacean, only twice. The first time was an unseasonably warm December day in 2016, when he managed to snap a striking image of a right whale’s dark tail against the backdrop of the New York City skyline. “That was a beautiful shot,” Raslich says, proudly. The second was just a few weeks ago, in early October, roughly 3 miles east of Sea Bright, New Jersey.

Unfortunately, both whales had suffered an increasingly common fate: They were entangled in fishing ropes and were likely to die.

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered species on the planet. Scientists announced last month that there are only about 360 of the animals left, down roughly 50 from the previous year’s survey. They live along the East Coast, from northern Florida to Canada, where the 50-foot-long, 140,000-pound leviathans must navigate through millions of commercial fishing lines — primarily lobster traps — and one of the world’s most crowded shipping channels. Too often they become tangled in those lines, or are struck by a ship. The fight to save them, led by biologists and conservation groups, has grown urgent — in the water and in the courts.”

Rene Ebersole reports for Yale Environment 360 November 17, 2020.