No reported deaths, entanglements for North Atlantic right whales this year
'We need a few more quiet years like this before we can start to feel relief,' says Sean Brilliant
No North Atlantic right whales have been found dead or entangled in Canadian waters this year, which comes after years of deaths and entanglements of the endangered species.
One hundred and twenty right whales have been spotted in Canadian waters this year.
"It's been a good season," said Sean Brilliant, the marine programs manager at the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
He said there could be multiple reasons why there haven't been any deaths or entanglements this year, including restrictions on fishing and shipping traffic in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but he feels the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role.
"Vessel traffic through the Gulf of St. Lawrence has reduced," said Brilliant.
"There are no cruise ships coming into the Maritimes or into Canada this year, and that's a reduction in potential ship strike risk."
But the pandemic had a negative impact as well. Researchers from other countries were not allowed into Canada because of travel restrictions.
Brilliant said Canada increased patrols for the whales and he's confident the organization's data is accurate.
"These whales [often float] belly-up when they're dead and become very recognizable, so they're kind of easy to see," he said.
"It's entirely possible that we missed some, but it's certainly a very good sign that we have not found any that are dead."
Looking for calves
What is unclear, though, is how good the feeding season was for the mammals.
Brilliant said studies were conducted this year on the plankton the whales feed on, but that information won't be known for awhile.
But there is one way to soon see how good the feeding season was: whether the whales have calves.
"This means that the moms and dads, but the moms in particular, are getting enough energy to raise a calf and give birth to a calf and support the calf and that's a real good sign," said Brilliant. "So we will certainly know this winter whether or not it was a successful feeding season."
He said it's too early to claim victory, but the whales deserve even this small win.
"We're not out of the woods yet," said Brilliant.
"We need a few more quiet years like this before we can start to feel relief."
- Sean Brilliant is with the Canadian Wildlife Federation. The organization was not identified correctly in an earlier version of this story.Sep 24, 2020 12:04 PM AT
With files from Harry Forestell