The North Atlantic right whale is a species of whale that is currently considered critically endangered. Despite having been included in the Endangered Species Act since 1973, experts estimate that the North Atlantic right whale population has dwindled to fewer than 350.
To help protect these incredibly rare creatures while they migrate from Canada and New England where they forage during the summer season, to the southeastern coast by South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia where they give birth, the US government has established a voluntary protected zone off the coast of New York City.
The protected zone is part of an effort to slow down passing ships, however, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hopes to persuade ships to avoid sailing through the area at all.
Contributing to the North American right whale’s declining population is the fact that they are birthing offspring at half the rate they once did, as well as their shortened lifespans. Usually, these whales will live between 70 to 100 years, but human activities have led to higher mortality rates and shorter lifespans of 45 to 65 years.
Boat collisions and entanglements in fishing gear are common causes of death for these whales as well as a multitude of other sea-dwelling species. Climate change and noise pollution from boats and construction also add to detriment of the whales.
The high mortality rates that the species have experienced since 2017 have been deemed an Unusual Mortality Event by the NOAA, and “in recent years, researchers have recorded more deaths among adult females than adult males, leading to a population with more males than females, a bias that is increasing over time,” the NOAA adds. “Females that undergo energetic stress from reproduction may be more susceptible than males to dying from chronic injuries such as those from entanglement or vessel strikes.”
The protected zone, which covers the waters of south Long Island and east of New Jersey, with additional protected areas near Maryland and Massachusetts will be in effect until December 5.