The Current

Protecting right whales needs a more proactive approach: researcher

Three right whales were spotted tangled in fishing gear this week. We ask Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson if enough is being done to protect them, and speak to a frustrated researcher who argues that it isn't.

New measures to protect North Atlantic right whales announced Monday

In this April 10, 2008, file photo, a North Atlantic right whale dives in Cape Cod Bay near Provincetown, Mass. (Stephan Savoia/Associated Press)

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As new measures to protect the North Atlantic right whale are announced, one researcher has expressed her frustration that it took the deaths of several whales to spur the government into action.

"I would prefer to see that a proactive measure that would ensure that those animals are protected day and night," said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director of Whale and Dolphin Conservation North America.

Asmutis-Silvia told The Current's guest host Katie Simpson that she applauded "the amazingly fast action that Canada has taken and can take in their regulatory measures."

"But it's unfortunate to me that what's happening is reactive, instead of proactive to protect these animals."

There have been six right whale deaths reported in 2019. Rescue efforts were scheduled Tuesday to free a further three whales entangled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 

On Monday evening, Transport Canada announced further protections for right whales in those waters

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the new measures were the government's way of "redoubling our efforts."

We need to stop entangling them, and we need to stop running them over.- Regina Asmutis-Silvia

The measures include further reducing ship speeds in the area, increasing zones in which the speed restrictions will apply, increasing aerial surveillance and funding for initiatives to enhance marine mammal response.

"Previously the closure of the area would only have been triggered by three whale sightings. We will be moving to simply one whale sighting" to prompt an area's closure, Wilkinson told Simpson.

The government is "doing everything we can to ensure that we are not having these kinds of incidents," he said.

Asmutis-Silvia said that the whale deaths could have been prevented with more proactive action, but that humans are "the hurdle that keeps them endangered."

"We need to stop entangling them, and we need to stop running them over."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Jessica Linzey, Allie Jaynes, Sarah-Joyce Battersby and Aruna Dutt.


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