We need to save the right whales, before it's too late

Published on Wednesday, 14 August 2019 14:12
Written by

The Providence Journal

Right whales are among the most fascinating and beloved creatures on earth. In adulthood, they can be bigger than a bus, 50 feet long and nearly 70 tons, with enormous heads that measure up to one-third of their length. They use their massive baleen “teeth” to strain plankton and other tiny morsels of food from the ocean. During summer months, they are sometimes seen off Cape Cod and Rhode Island.

It is said that their name comes from their being the “right” whales to hunt in earlier centuries.

Their oil was valuable in the West before electricity, and their baleen had multiple uses before plastics, going into everything from buggy whips to women’s corsets. They tend to swim close to the shore and have thick blubber that makes them float after they have been killed, something that facilitated harvesting.

As a result, they were hunted relentlessly in the 18th and 19th centuries, to near-extinction.

But hunting of them was banned in 1949, and both the North Atlantic and North Pacific branches of the species have survived, barely.

Unfortunately, recent news has been alarming.

Of the estimated 411 right whales still living in the oceans today, at least eight have died this summer. Some were struck by vessels, but we don’t yet know what killed the others.

“The species is currently in a steep decline, but there is a tremendous amount of attention and interest in reducing these incidental deaths,” Sean Brilliant, a senior conservation biologist of marine programs at the Canadian Wildlife Federation, told CBS News. “I am optimistic we can stop this decline, but there is a lot of work to do and a lot of tough decisions to make.”

We should do what we can to help the species survive and prosper, both for the sake of these majestic animals and for our human progeny, who would have an opportunity to marvel at and learn from these whales.

While whalers and nation-states are no longer targeting the right whale, these creatures are sometimes killed by vessel strikes or because they are bycatch when commercial fishermen are trying to catch other species.

This week, former Navy officer Walter Wasowski, 73, of Middletown, helped rescue an entangled whale off Rockport, Massachusetts, while a white shark prowled nearby, according to WPRI-12. The whale was ensnared in a buoy line attached to a number of lobster traps.

Political conflicts have arisen over trying to protect the whales. Maine’s congressional delegation, for example, has asked President Trump to block efforts by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop regulations to protect the right whale. Their objection: the regulations may interfere with the activities of lobster and crab-pot fishermen, whose lines sometimes ensnare the whales.

Surely, we should strike a balance that protects the whales while preserving fishing.

U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., is among the lawmakers who have proposed the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered (SAVE) Right Whales Act. The act, which is cosponsored by representatives from Florida and California, would provide government grants to companies, nonprofits and others who research ways to protect right whales and plankton, their primary source of food.

The bill would provide funding of $5 million a year for 10 years.

It is not clear that would do the trick, but certainly we must work our hardest to protect this endangered species.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Editorials on Wednesday, 14 August 2019 14:12. Updated: Wednesday, 14 August 2019 14:14.