The New England Aquarium has led science-based conservation on the endangered, iconic North Atlantic right whale for more than 35 years, and our long-term dataset is uniquely valuable for understanding how to monitor and mitigate the impacts of industrial development on the ocean for this and other large marine species. Despite the cessation of hunting, this whale population has been struggling to recover in the “industrialized” ocean of the Eastern Seaboard.

Outcomes

Our research over the last several decades has identified ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement as the major causes of mortality. This research, along with extensive work with shipping companies and policy makers, led to moving shipping lanes and reducing ship speeds along the Eastern Seaboard, greatly reducing the risk of collisions between whales and ships. Now the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life is working to solve the threats from entanglement with fishing gear that kills at least two whales per year.

The Center is testing ways to help whales avoid entanglement, and we are working with fishermen to test reduced-strength ropes that could enable whales to break free while still allowing for effective fishing. Center scientists have shown the impact of shipping noise on stress in right whales, which may be a contributor to low reproductive rates in this population, relative to comparable populations such as the southern right whale. Future work will focus on better understanding the long-term, cumulative impacts of noise and other stressors—including climate change—on right whales using ongoing health assessments, calf counts, and mortality assessments, with the goal of mitigating these impacts and restoring the health of the population.

Our work with this species can also serve as a model for protecting multiple species facing similar threats.

We will protect the iconic, endangered North Atlantic right whale from multiple stressors (fishing gear entanglement, noise, and climate change) to stabilize and restore its population.

Center scientists are pioneers in the development and application of noninvasive techniques for assessing health and stress in marine animals. This work has included development and validation of techniques using our longtime series of studies of the North Atlantic right whale, with application to other types of whales and marine mammal species in other regions around the world. We take a holistic approach to assessing impacts of multiple stressors, including injury, pollution, disease, noise, and other consequences of human activities. Future work will address the impacts of climate change, comparison studies using captive animals and control populations to characterize baseline levels of health for multiple marine species, and strategies for mitigating stressors and their impacts on marine mammal populations.

The Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life will apply techniques learned from studying the North Atlantic right whale to other whale and marine mammal species.