New Brunswick·Podcast

Deep Trouble: the North Atlantic right whale in peril

Deep Trouble follows the journalist who interviewed scientists and others trying to solve the puzzle of a deadly summer for the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

The Deep Trouble podcast looks at the unprecedented deaths of North Atlantic right whales

The Deep Trouble podcast gets in depth look at the journalist who followed scientist and those trying to save the endanger North Atlantic Right whale after the deadliest summer with just 450 of them remaining in the world.

CBC New Brunswick has launched Deep Trouble: a podcast series that brings together the interviews and stories by CBC journalists who travelled far and wide to cover a deadly summer for the North Atlantic right whale. Only about 450 whales remain in the world. 

Listen to the full discussion and subscribe to the Deep Trouble podcast from the CBC Podcast page or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

A record number of endangered North Atlantic right whales died this summer, most the apparent victims of ship collisions. Others whales got entangled in fishing lines.

Whales seemed at greatest risk in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. As deaths mounted, the federal government made emergency changes to protect the animals — a mandatory slowdown of large ships and an early closure of a snow crab fishery, hoping to regulate the human activity linked to the problem. 

A North Atlantic right whale off Cape Cod, Mass. (Center for Coastal Studies)

At the same time, those dedicated to keeping right whales alive, mourned the loss of Joe Howlett, the co-founder of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team who died saving North Atlantic Right whale No. 4123 after it got tangled up in fishing gear in the gulf.

The podcast brings together interviews and stories by CBC journalists who followed the scientists and whale rescuers as part of a multi-platform series called Deep Trouble. 

Episode 1: What is happening to the endangered North Atlantic right whale?

In the summer of 2017, a stunning 15 North Atlantic right whales were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence or along the U.S. east coast. It has been called an "unusual mortality event."

Right whales can be found along the East Coast of Canada and the U.S., and over the summer, an unusually large number made their way to the Gulf of Lawrence. (Center for Coastal Studies/NOAA)

That's accurate, but it doesn't reflect the urgency of what's going on with the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

With only about 450 left in the world, the species may not survive.

This podcast features the CBC's Shane Fowler, who explains what happened and why the number of dead whales is a concern.

Listen to Episode 1 by clicking the player below:

Episode 2: Meet the scientists and researchers trying to save the right whales. 

Moira Brown and Philip Hamilton are two of the many scientists and researchers dedicated to learning more about North Atlantic right whales, documenting their lives and trying to save the species.

Moira Brown has been studying right whales for 30 years. (CBC)

Brown has spent decades studying the endangered whales and summers trying to untangle them from fishing gear.

Hamilton, meanwhile, has created a catalogue of the world's remaining right whales.

Listen to Episode 2 by clicking the player below:

Episode 3: 'It's cracked my heart open': The death of whale rescuer Joe Howlett

​Fisherman Joe Howlett, the co-founder of the Campobello Whale Rescue team, made it his mission to save entangled whales.

The late whale rescuer Joe Howlett flashes a peace sign. (Canadian Whale Institute/New England Aquarium)

In July, he was whisked off to another whale entanglement in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

It would turn out to be his last rescue. Friends and colleagues recount what one called the "worst summer of my life."

Listen to Episode 3 by clicking the player below:

Episode 4: The investigators: Searching for answers

Whenever a dead North Atlantic right whale washes ashore, scientists are dispatched to the location to immediately begin necropsies.

Scientists conduct necropsies on two endangered North Atlantic right whales found near the Magdalen Islands. (Gilbert Boyer)

The giant whales are studied from head to tail, as scientists try to understand how they died.

Some of the region's top experts explain the challenges with performing the necropsies and what they learned in this deadly summer.

Listen to Episode 4 by clicking the player below:

Episode 5: Trying to save the North Atlantic right whale

After the deadliest summer for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, the federal government has been trying to find ways to keep these gentle giants alive.

The carcass of a small, female North Atlantic right whale, brought ashore for a necropsy on Miscou Island, was severely entangled in fishing lines. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Some early steps were taken, such as ending the snow crab season early and imposing a speed limit on larger ships. What will happen next?

Listen to Episode 5 by clicking the player below:

Episode 6: Saving the species from extinction.

Researchers say the North American right whale is "teetering on the brink of extinction" and action must be taken.

The body of a right whale is prepared for a necropsy. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

So what can be done to prevent another deadly year for the right whales and what is being done to understand the more complex problems threatening its existence?

Listen to Episode 6 by clicking the player below: