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North Atlantic Right Whale Initiative

The plight of the North Atlantic Right Whale is a challenge not only to scientists, conservationists and policy makers, but also to the fishing and shipping industries. The coastal habitat and surface oriented behavior of the whales bring them into direct conflict with important economic forces that are concentrated off the Northeast Coast of the United States. In addition to strong ethical concerns, there are very real economic risks at stake in the interaction of whales, ships and fishermen. Because of their protection under the Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to kill or take a North Atlantic Right Whale, and activities that cause deaths even unintentionally, such as fishing gear entanglement or ship strikes, risk being severely curtailed or shut down entirely by court orders or other legal action. In a very real sense, these industries are threatened as much as the whales themselves, and have a huge stake in a solution to the problem. We believe that such a solution, one that conserves Right Whales, coastal fishing and commercial shipping, must be based on better scientific information and more innovative technological approaches.

Neither conservation action nor ocean policymaking are the job of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, but effective action in both areas depends on the best scientific information available. WHOI is a research organization and its role in helping to find a solution to this complex problem is in providing accurate and unbiased data to the public and private organizations whose role is to effect needed changes in policies and practices. We do not need to ‘advocate’ particular conservation actions, but we do advocate development of a rational and unbiased body of information that will lead to the best solution to this problem for all concerned parties.

The WHOI Ocean Life Institute has undertaken a multi year initiative in collaboration with the New England Aquarium, to support scientific research that has direct application to right whale conservation issues. Multi-year support from a number of individuals and foundation has supported a WHOI researchers focusing on right whale research problems.