Thinking About Conservation and the North Atlantic Right Whale

by kserafin on November 9, 2017 - 3:36pm

              The North Atlantic Right Whale suffered a brush with devastation as it was found nearly extinct in the mid 1900’s. As of today, it is estimated a mere 500 whales are still alive (Kraus et Al; 2016). The article in question examines current innovation and conservation techniques revolving around the NARW. Its main actors are fishermen and fisheries, regulators such as federal/provincial governments, and researchers of the species themselves. Although it seemed for a time that the population was recovering steadily, recent estimates have concluded that the conservation estimates that were once successful are receding and resulting in an ever-shrinking growth rate. This summer alone, at least 16 right whales died in Canadian and American waters (CBC; 2017). Discussions are beginning which will attempt to reinvigorate conservation efforts and attempt to avoid potential disaster. Whereas the article focuses on raw numbers and specific techniques, this post will briefly focus on which environmental management techniques have already been tried, and which approaches to EM we may see in the future if we are to allow this rare species to fully recover.

               A main cause of fatality in the NARW has been fishing related. To specify, a large number of whales have been milled/injured/rendered unable to breed by issues common with intense fishing like entanglement, collisions with vessels, and destruction of feeding grounds. The article in question suggests that the number of NARW deaths has been alarming to conservationists everywhere. Since the NARW was discovered to be on a path to extinction in the early to mid 1900’s, several management techniques have been attempted; mainly of an adaptive management approach. For example, one key change in policy has to do with regulations surrounding vessel speed and size. A reduction in vessel speed has correlated with a reduction in deaths resulting from vessel impact (Laist et al; 2014). However, this is not the entirety of the issue. As lethal and sub-lethal entanglements involving the NARW are still unprecedented, and having a severe impact on the NARW’s ability to sustain itself (Kraus et al; 2016). Other mitigation techniques include limiting vessel population in known NARW habitats. Once again however, there is little to prove that these simple regulations are effective in reducing deaths among the NARW.  These strict regulations are sometimes reminiscent of a command and control style of management. Their reliance on scientific knowledge and assumption of a stable environment (i.e. knowing the location of NARW and reacting accordingly) leads them into this bracket of environmental management. The articles authors acknowledge the shortcomings of current management, but fails to offer any deeper or more complete solutions.

               Although some forms of adaptive management are evident (particularly in speed regulations and their willingness to accept the uncertainty of NARW locations and react accordingly), more diverse regulation and management techniques must be utilized to ensure the NARW does not suffer another near brush with extinction. A good example of an adaptive, semi -co-management approach which blends the positive aspects of many management approaches together is information collection and dissection. Monsaratt et al analyzes past and present feeding grounds and human interactions to create an understanding of past interactions which they believe can “…provide a baseline that can be used to estimate past human impacts on this population and to assess progress toward recovery” (Monsaratt et al; 2015). This environmental assessment approach is vital in fully understanding and analyzing potential future impacts, and as discussed in lecture, helps to make common sense and knowledge part of the decision making process.



Works Cited

Kraus, S. D., Kenney, R. D., Mayo, C. A., McLellan, W. A., Moore, M. J., & Nowacek, D. P. (2016). Recent scientific publications cast doubt on North Atlantic right whale future. Frontiers in Marine Science3, 137.

Laist, D. W., Knowlton, A. R., and Pendleton, D. (2014). Effectiveness of mandatory vessel speed limits for protecting North Atlantic right whales. Endang. Spec. Res. 23, 133–147. doi: 10.3354/esr00586

MacKinnon, Bobbi-Jean. “Saving North Atlantic right whales: Focus turns to tapping $400M fisheries fund to support innovation.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 9 Nov. 2017,

Monsarrat, S., Pennino, M. G., Smith, T. D., Reeves, R. R., Meynard, C. N., Kaplan, D. M., & Rodrigues, A. S. (2016). A spatially explicit estimate of the prewhaling abundance of the endangered North Atlantic right whale. Conservation Biology30(4), 783-791.

Roth, R. (2017). Lecture 11, Adaptive Management; Lecture 13: EA,  (Powerpoint slides)