Right whale deaths in Gulf of St. Lawrence

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is concerned by these deaths and takes the recovery, protection and conservation of endangered species very seriously.

DFO is committed to:

  • protecting this species and supporting its recovery
  • finding out the cause of death of these whales
  • doing everything possible to prevent whale deaths in the future
  • ensuring response actions proceed in the safest manner possible for everyone involved.

Last Updated: November 17, 2017

What We’re Doing Now

On November 9, 2017 Minister LeBlanc met with representatives from fishing organizations, marine transportation industries, cruise lines, Indigenous peoples, whale experts and scientists, as well as the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to discuss concrete actions which can be taken to better protect the right whale in Canadian waters. Moving forward, the Government of Canada will work with partners on many of the specific proposals that were discussed throughout the day, such as:

  • Actively explore opportunities to adjust existing fishing gear immediately.
  • Test new gear technologies that would reduce the amount of rope in the water, lowering the risk of whale entanglements.
  • Adjust fishing seasons to avoid periods when right whales congregate.
  • Put measures in place to reduce lost fishing gear that pose risks to whales or other species.
  • Enhance whale sighting and detection information and timely sharing among partners and industry to enable effective measures to avoid entanglement and vessel strikes.
  • Consider including temporary speed restrictions in target areas and adjustments to shipping lanes based on accurate and timely whale sightings information.
  • Improve the collaboration and coordination across industry sectors, government and non-government to leverage the expertise contributing to the protection and recovery of the right whale.

Confirmed Right Whale Incidents

Over the course of June – September 2017,12 North Atlantic Right Whales died in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Necropsies

October 5, 2017 – The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) released a report today titled “Incident Report: North Atlantic Right Whale Mortality Event in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, 2017,” which includes findings from necropsies performed this summer on six of the dead North Atlantic Right Whales. The CWHC report was prepared and released in partnership with the Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) following an unprecedented number of North Atlantic Right Whale mortalities this past summer.

The full report can be downloaded here: The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC)

Incident Discovered Analysis IDFootnote 1, sex, age (if known)
13 Sept 15, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – near Miscou Island
Necropsy: Sept 19, 2017 Miscou Island, New Brunswick Female, no ID
12 July 30, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – near River of Ponds
Samples taken (photographs, finger bones, tissue samples, measurements) on August 3, 2017 Female, no ID
11 July 27, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – in Cedar Cove

Samples taken (photographs, finger bones, measurements) on July 30, 2017

*Same whale as incident #5*
"3512"
Female, 12 years
10 July 27, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – near Cape Ray
Samples taken (photographs, finger bones, measurements) on July 30, 2017 Male, no ID
9 July 21, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – near Church Point
Samples taken (photographs, finger bones, tissue samples, measurements) on July 29, 2017 Male, no ID
8 July 19, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – northeast New Brunswick
Necropsy: July 21, 2017
Miscou Island, New Brunswick
“Peanut”
Male, 26 years
7 July 6, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – near Magdalen Islands
Necropsy: July 10, 2017
Magdalen Islands, Quebec
Male, no ID
6 June 23, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
Necropsy: June 30, 2017
Norway, Prince Edward Island
“1207"
Male, at least 37 years
5 June 22, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
Samples were taken at sea on June 22, 2017 "3512"
Female, 12 years
4 June 21, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
Necropsy: July 1, 2017
Norway, Prince Edward Island
“Starboard”
Female, 11 years
3 June 18, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf

Necropsy: July 9, 2017 Magdalen Islands, Quebec

Samples were also taken at sea on June 22 2017 date.

“Panama”
Male, at least 17 years
2 June 19, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
Necropsy: June 29, 2017
Norway, Prince Edward Island
“Glacier”
Male, 33 years
1 June 7, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
None “3746”
Male, 10 years
NOAA’s Unusual Mortality Event

Since North Atlantic right whales are a critically endangered species, with whales migrating in the North Atlantic including U.S. and Canada, NOAA has determined that the current 2017 mortality event has reached a threshold where it now fits the criteria for designating an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. An Unusual Mortality Event allows the U.S. to investigate a significant die-off of any marine mammal population. Investigating and understanding unusual mortality events in marine mammals is important because they can serve as indicators of ocean health, giving insight into larger environmental issues, which may also have implications for human health and welfare.

Pausing Disentanglements

On July 10, 2017, Mr. Joe Howlett, of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, tragically lost his life while taking part in a rescue operation to disentangle a North Atlantic Right whale off the Eastern coast of New Brunswick. We are deeply saddened by the loss of Mr. Howlett and send our sincere thoughts and condolences to his family and friends.

As with any disentanglement operation, there are serious risks involved. Each situation is unique and these whales can be unpredictable.

In light of this, DFO has paused its responses to entangled North Atlantic Right whales.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is currently reviewing its policies and practices regarding response to whale entanglements. The Department’s objective is to ensure that response actions proceed in the safest way possible for everyone involved. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is also reviewing its protocols and has temporarily suspended its whale rescue efforts for the Right whale.

The pause on responding to entangled North Atlantic Right whales will be in effect until the review is completed. DFO will carefully assess each case of entanglement for other types of whales to decide whether and how to respond.

While the entanglement of a whale is an extremely difficult and distressing situation, our first priority is the safety of those involved in marine mammal response.

Collaboration

DFO is collaborating with other governments, groups who have expertise in marine mammals and species at risk, and others to determine what happened to the whales and to prevent future incidents. Partners include:

  • Dalhousie University
  • Université de Montréal
  • New Brunswick Museum
  • Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative
  • Canadian Whale Institute in New Brunswick
  • Marine Animal Response Society in Nova Scotia
  • Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island
  • Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals in Quebec
  • Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network
  • Centre québécois pour la santé des animaux sauvages
  • Mingan Island Cetacean Study
  • Transport Canada
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada
  • Parks Canada (Newfoundland and Labrador)
  • the provincial governments of Nova Scotia, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island
  • commercial fishers
  • New England Aquarium
  • Marine Mammal Commission
  • University of North Carolina Wilmington
  • U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Status of right whales in Gulf of St. Lawrence

The North Atlantic Right whale is an endangered species in Canada. It’s protected under the:

The global population is approximately 450.

Report dead or distressed marine mammals

To report dead, injured or entangled marine mammals, please visit report a marine mammal in distress.

North Atlantic Right whale sightings - Gulf of St. Lawrence, Bay of Fundy, 2017

 North Atlantic Right whale sightings - Gulf of St. Lawrence, Bay of Fundy, 2017 (PDF)

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