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Right Whale Watch Season Off Florida's East Coast Is Here, But Numbers Are Dwindling

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Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources
Entangled Right Whale
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Marine Resource Council's Right-Whale Conservation Coordinator Julie Albert

Palm Bay - Tuesday December 6, 2022: Every year between the months of December and March Right-Whales are seen off Florida’s north east coast. However, they are becoming an increasingly rare sight as their numbers dwindle in the face of their encounters with propeller blades and commercial fishing gear.

The population of right whales on the east coast of North American has fallen to roughly 340, and just 70 are breeding females.

During a seminar Tuesday at The Marine Resource Council in Palm Bay Julie Albert, the MRC’s Right-Whale Conservation Coordinator, said that extinction is a real possibility.

“We’ve got a low birth rate and a high death rate in this population," said Albert. "So right now, they’re predicted to be biologically extinct by the year 2040 if something isn’t done to help them.”.”

Among the greatest threats to the Right Whale is an encounter with a propeller blade. “Vessel strikes usually lead to a very quick and gruesome death for these animals. When I started this job 23 years ago this was their number one killer.”

Entanglement with commercial fishing lines and nets are another big killer. “More than 85% of this population has scares from entanglement at least once in their life-time. More than half have been entangled more than once," said Albert.

However, important proposals are now in the comment period to protect the right whale, including requiring commercial fishermen to use whale safe fishing gear which essentially means putting the buoy and spool of line down on the bottom along with the trap, and electronically triggering the buoy to rise to the surface and allow the fisherman to haul up the trap.

“There are a million lines in New England in the lobster and crab fisheries that are just statically hanging in the water column and that is what’s entangling animals," said Albert. "We want to take all of that and put it all on the ocean floor with the trap so the whales can swim over it, instead of into it.”

Expanding the right whale’s protected zones along the entire east coast, and making speed limits mandatory are also under consideration.

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