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: September 19, 2017

Confirmed Right Whale Deaths

We continue to work on confirming the identities of two whales that have recently been discovered on the west coast of Newfoundland. DFO is currently working to confirm whether they are new specimens or are two of the previously identified North Atlantic Right whales spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence earlier this summer.

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.

Whale Discovered Analysis IDFootnote 1, sex, age (if known)
11 Sept 15, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – near Miscou Island
Necropsy: Sept 19, 2017 Miscou Island, New Brunswick To be determined
? 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
? July 27, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – in Cedar Cove
Samples taken (photographs, finger bones, measurements) on July 30, 2017 Female, no ID
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”
M, 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"
M, 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 Female (no ID)
4 June 21, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
Necropsy: July 1, 2017
Norway, Prince Edward Island
“Starboard”
F, 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”
M, 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”
M, 33 years
1 June 7, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
None “3746”
M, 10 years
What We’re Doing Now

In the interim, we continue to work with our valued and highly skilled partners to help protect the North Atlantic Right whale population, including:

  • Monitoring North Atlantic Right whales’ positions and taking temporary measures, when warranted, to limit whale-vessel interactions.
  • Working with experts to necropsy and sample several whales carcasses found in the past weeks, in order to identify the whales if possible and to better understand what caused these deaths.
  • Addressing threats to marine mammals in Canadian waters and enhancing capacity to respond to marine mammal incidents through the Government of Canada’s $1.5 billion investment in the Oceans Protection Plan.
On alert for whales
  • Issuing a notice to the commercial fishing industry in the Gulf of St. Lawrence asking fishermen to watch for whales and to report any sightings.
  • Broadcasting notices on the marine radio system to request shipping and fishing industries be on alert for whales.
  • In addition to the toll-free number and the Whale Alert website, individuals can use the established VHF channel 16 to report on observations of dead or injured whales and the Coast Guard will relay the information to the appropriate authorities.
Increased surveillance
  • Working with partners to patrol the coast to monitor and assess any reports of dead or distressed whale sightings.
  • Continuing surveillance flights to confirm positions of live Right Whales continues in the Gulf.
Slowing down ships
  • The Canadian Coast Guard issued two Notices to Shipping (Notship) requesting that mariners voluntarily reduce speed much of the western Gulf of St. Lawrence from the Quebec north shore to just north of Prince Edward Island.
  • The Government of Canada implemented a temporary mandatory slow-down of vessels 20 meters or more to a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence from the Quebec north shore to just north of Prince Edward Island.
  • Vessels under 20 meters were asked to respect the speed reduction.

The Canadian Coast Guard has issued a Notice to Shipping (Notship) instructing a decrease in vessel speed and this Notship will remain in effect until further notice.

Q1189/2017 — Pointe Ouest (Anticosti) to Blanc-Sablon - GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE / Speed reduction in the gulf of St. Lawrence due to increased presence of right whales - Issued on 2017-08-11

In order to promote navigation safety and protection of the marine environment due to an increased presence of north Atlantic whales in the gulf of St. Lawrence, all vessels of 65 feet (19.8m) or longer are instructed to proceed at a speed not exceeding 10 knots over the ground in the St. Lawrence and the Gulf of St. Lawrence between the following coordinates. 47° 10' N 062° 00' W; 47° 10' N 065° 00' W; 50° 20' N 065° 00' W; 50° 20' N 062° 00' W. Failure to comply with this speed restriction could lead to enforcement action under section 7 of the Collision Regulations. Report all observations of live, dead or injured whales to the Canadian Coast Guard on VHF ch 16 or to "Marine Animal Response" at  1-866-567-6277. The reporting of live whale sightings using Whale Alert is also encouraged. www.whalealert.org

Fishery closures
  • Closing Snow Crab Fishing Area 12 in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence (all fishing gear has been removed from the water).
  • Other fixed gear fisheries such as rock and toad crab fisheries have either been restricted to fish in shallow water (less than 20 fathoms) or have had a delayed opening.
Scientific research
  • Providing $56,000 towards the Whales Habitat and Listening Experiment (WHaLE) to support the development of a real-time whale alert system for mariners, which can inform measures to help reduce whale and ship collisions in Canadian waters.
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.

Necropsies

DFO and its partners are working as quickly as possible to thoroughly evaluate potential causes of death. Laboratory analyses are required. Tissue and fluid samples will be analysed at multiple specialized laboratories; some of these tests, including tissue cultures, will take weeks to complete.

Once the samples are tested, experts will then need to carefully analyze the results. The full process is expected to take 6-8 weeks from the time of each necropsy. DFO will discuss the final results of the necropsies once they become available.

Watch video footage of the first towing operation (June 28, 2017)

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 500.

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