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Faces of North Atlantic Right Whale Conservation

February 07, 2018

The past year has been devastating for the North Atlantic right whale, whose population suffered a loss of at least 18 individuals—4 percent of the population—an alarming number for this already critically endangered species. NOAA scientists, resource managers, and partners are coordinating closely to solve this urgent conservation challenge.

Now is the time to get informed. Check out our web story series below to learn what NOAA’s team—working in collaboration with experts from Canada to Florida—is doing to help find a road to recovery for the North Atlantic right whale.


Meet the Expert: Diane Borggaard

Diane Borggaard on a hill in Alaska with her dog.

Diane Borggaard is the Right Whale Recovery Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region. She works with various NOAA Fisheries experts and federal, state, and academic partners on issues related to the status and conservation of right whales and serves as the coordinator of the North Atlantic Right Whale Recovery Plan Northeast U.S. Implementation Team. Borggaard supports the efforts of the Implementation Team’s Population Evaluation Tool Subgroup. Her work is focused in the Northeast United States (Maine to Virginia), but North Atlantic right whales can occur from Canada through Florida, so she also works with experts on right whale recovery outside the Northeast.

Learn about Diane's current job duties, her educational background, where she grew up, and what inspires her.

Read the Q&A here

Meet the Expert: Tim Cole

North Atlantic right whale expert Tim Cole.

Tim Cole works with a team of scientists who conduct surveys from aircraft to monitor North Atlantic right whales in the Northeast, providing valuable clues about their location, behavior, health and body condition, and population status. 

The primary mission of the aerial surveys is to photographically “capture” as many individual right whales each year as possible, in order to monitor the population as a whole. Using the unique rough skin patches on the head of each whale (known as callosities), we can track their presence over time. These data are used in models that estimate the total number of whales in the population. 


Read the Q&A here

Meet the Expert: Barb Zoodsma

North Atlantic right whale expert Barb Zoodsma.

We organize and conduct aerial and vessel surveys with our state and nonprofit partners off the coast of Georgia and Florida, which is the key area where females give birth. Survey teams look for right whales, including mother/calf pairs. When we see whales, we photograph the animals so they can be individually identified. Learn how NOAA and its partners track right whale mothers and calves to gain more information about this imperiled species in this Q&A with Barb Zoodsma, NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Region’s North Atlantic Right Whale Recovery Program Coordinator.

Read the Q&A here 

Meet the Expert: Sofie Van Parijs

North Atlantic right whale expert Sofie Van Parijs.

Passive acoustic monitoring is one of the powerful tools NOAA experts use for understanding and monitoring shifts in North Atlantic right whales’ movements. Using technologies like autonomous listening gliders, floating high-tech buoys, or bottom-mounted recorders deployed along the coast, researchers can record whale calls and obtain new insights into range expansion or decline and changing distribution patterns. 

Learn more about North Atlantic right whale acoustic monitoring in this Q&A with NOAA zoologist Sofie Van Parijs, who started NOAA’s Northeast passive acoustic research group in 2006.

Read the Q&A here

Meet the Expert: Mike Asaro

North Atlantic right whale expert Mike Asaro.

Entanglement in fishing lines attached to gillnets and traps on the ocean floor is one of the greatest threats to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. Mike Asaro, Ph.D., is the Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Branch Chief of the NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office.

Learn more about his work with North Atlantic right whales and how NOAA, in coordination with the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, is coming up with innovative technologies and policies to reduce gear entanglements.

Read the Q&A here

Meet the Expert: David Morin

North Atlantic right whale expert David Morin.

Fishing gear entanglement is one of the leading known causes of North Atlantic right whale deaths in the United States and Canada. Ropes or lines can cut into a whale’s body, cause serious injuries, and result in infections and mortality. Even if a gear entanglement does not ultimately result in death, it can cause severe stress to the whales, making it difficult for the animals to swim and feed, and reducing the likelihood that they will survive to reproduce. 

Learn more about North Atlantic right whale disentanglement challenges and tools in this Q&A with NOAA Biologist David Morin, who coordinates disentanglement efforts within the Network.


Read the Q&A here


Meet the Expert: Mendy Garron

North Atlantic right whale expert Mendy Garron.

For Mendy Garron, a “typical” workday doesn’t exist. As the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Stranding and Response Program Coordinator for the northern states in the Greater Atlantic Region, she helps coordinate emergency response efforts for marine mammals, including North Atlantic right whales, that are stranded, in distress, or dead.

Learn more about stranding emergency response and analysis for the North Atlantic right whale in this Q&A with NOAA Marine Biologist Mendy Garron, who coordinates stranding response efforts along the East Coast.

Read the Q&A here

Meet the Experts: Shannon Bettridge and Peter Kelliher

A North Atlantic right whale breaching with a large ship in the background.

Learn more about ship strike reduction and response for the North Atlantic right whale in this Q&A with Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Division Chief Shannon Bettridge and Greater Atlantic Regional Marine Mammal Ship Strike and Monitoring Coordinator Peter Kelliher. 

Bettridge and Kelliher work with NOAA’s marine mammal survey team and shipping data analysts to review right whale locations and understand where co-occurrence with ships is most prevalent. Knowing where the whales are located from year to year, and even day to day, is especially important when establishing protective management areas.

Read the Q&A here