With its common name originating from whalers who, because of their tendency to float on the surface once dead, decided that they were the ‘right whale’ hunt, the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) has had a somewhat difficult past with people. By 1530s Basque whalers where happily taking these whales (and others too) off Labrador and Newfoundland in the Northeast Atlantic. By the mid-1600s, shore-based whaling took off down the east coast of the USA. Between 1634 and 1951, it is estimated that somewhere between 5,500 and 11,000 right whales were killed by hunters. 1935 saw the introduction of the Convention for the Regulation of Whaling – the first protection afforded to these critters but many – but not all – whaling nations (Japan and the then Soviet Union being the exceptions). Protection was bolsters in 1949 with the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (IWC), which banned signatories from hunting them for commercial purposes. In the US, they were listed under the Endangered Species Conservation Act in 1970, and the subsequent Endangered Species Act of 1973. Canada, who is not a signatory of the IWC, has listed them under their Species At Risk Act (SARA) as Endangered. Today it is estimated that there are somewhere between 300 – 400 individuals left, and whilst commercial whaling has ceased, they are still under threat primarily from ship strikes or entanglement in shipping gear.
Continue reading “Are we really protecting North Atlantic right whales?”