"No one engaged in right whale work believes that the species cannot recover from this. They absolutely can, if we stop killing them and allow them to allocate energy to finding food, mates and habitats that aren’t marred with deadly obstacles,” Kraus said.
The whales feed and mate off New England and Canada. They then travel hundreds of miles in the fall to calving grounds off Georgia and Florida before returning north in the spring.
The whale consortium was founded in the mid-1980s by a group of science institutions including the New England Aquarium and today includes dozens of members from academia, industry, government and elsewhere.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the arm of the federal government that monitors and regulates ocean issues, cautioned that the group's estimate is preliminary and has not yet been peer reviewed. However, the agency shares the consortium's concern about the loss of right whales, said Allison Ferreira, a spokesperson for the agency.
“North Atlantic right whales are one of the most imperiled species on the planet, and the latest estimate shows that the substantial downward trajectory of right whale abundance documented over the last decade continues,” Ferreira said.
The whales, which can weigh 135,000 pounds, have been a focus of conservationists for generations. Recently, efforts to save the whales have resulted in new restrictions on U.S. lobster fishing and pushback from the fishing industry about those new rules.
The rules are designed to reduce the number of rope lines that link buoys to lobster and crab traps, and went into effect this year. However, the rules also resulted in a flurry of lawsuits, and a federal judge ruled this month that fishermen can continue to fish until further notice in an area off the coast of Maine that had been slated for restriction from their gear.