The North American Right Whale is an endangered species at risk of extinction with fewer than 350 remaining. Each year the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Georgia Department of Natural Resources fund and conduct aerial surveys from North Carolina to Florida during the calving season which begins in mid-November and continues through mid-April.
NOAA Fisheries maintains a catalog of each whale and recently stated in an article on the 2022 season, “While we are excited to see eleven new mom-calf pairs so far this calving season, North Atlantic right whales are dying faster than they can reproduce. Experts estimate that we’ll need close to 20 new calves born this year to hold steady at the current population. That's why every whale counts.”
Since 2017 researchers have documented more than 14% of the population either dead or seriously injured. Nicole Bonine, the Environmental Compliance Program Manager for USACE, South Atlantic Division stated, “They were an easy target for whalers since they are an ‘urban whale’ that is found close to shore and spends a significant amount of time at the ocean surface.”
“This same behavior leads to vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear today,” she continued. “Each year we fund aerial surveys to monitor the whales, so boaters in the area can be alerted and experts can respond to injured or entangled whales. Our organization is committed to protecting this species so they can recover but we have a long way to go.”
Right whales are hard to see since they are the color of the ocean and do not have a dorsal fin that sticks above the water. NOAA Fisheries advises boaters to slow down to 10 knots or less in right whale areas to avoid collisions and federal law requires all vessels stay at least 500 yards (five football fields) away from right whales and to immediately leave at safe, slow speeds if one is spotted.
Help do your part by keeping a look out when boating and report whale sightings to NOAA Fisheries at (877) WHALE-HELP or the Coast Guard on marine VHF channel 16. Boat operators can incorporate avoiding right whale areas into their float plan by checking the NOAA Right Whale Sightings Advisory System at:
or Whale Alert:
Boaters from Maine to Virginia can sign up for email or text notifications of right whale slow zones at: