Welcome to Whale Week 2020, where we feature our staff and partners dedicated to finding new ways to conserve, protect, and recover whales.
I know from my earliest whale watching experience that whales are amazing animals that inspire wonder and awe. On a 2019 trip with researchers, I saw a North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. I came to a new level of appreciation for their physical power. What I learned from experts who dedicate their lives to these animals has brought me an even greater understanding of the importance of whale conservation.
Each fall, some female right whales travel more than 1,000 miles from the feeding grounds of New England and Canada to the shallow, coastal waters of the southeast United States to birth their calves. They make this journey despite numerous threats such as fishing gear, entanglements, vessel strikes, ocean noise, and pollution.
With fewer than 400 right whales alive today, every new birth is essential to conserve and recover this species. NOAA Fisheries and our partners are dedicated to protecting these mothers and calves and conserving and rebuilding the North Atlantic right whale population. We use a variety of innovative techniques to study, protect, and rescue these endangered whales. We engage our partners as we develop regulations and management plans. These plans foster healthy fisheries and reduce the risk of entanglements, create whale-safe shipping practices, and reduce ocean noise.
Whales have great environmental, scientific, cultural, and economic value. In fact, whale watching generates more than $2 billion a year worldwide. They are some of the largest species on earth. They are essential to keeping the marine ecosystem in balance with the nutrients they consume and recycle. They alert us when the ecosystem may be out of balance when they strand individually or in groups. They are honored in the traditions of Native cultures. And they hold special places in the hearts and minds of whale watchers and whoever is fortunate enough to see them in the wild.
This year, as with all of our previous years, we are celebrating all species of cetaceans— whales, dolphins, and porpoises. For “Whale Week 2020,” we are highlighting our efforts to recover three critically endangered species that are part of our Species in the Spotlight campaign. This is an initiative bringing greater attention and marshalling resources to save highly at-risk species. The three species are:
- North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis), which live in the North Atlantic waters of the U.S. and Canada.
- Southern Resident killer whales (Orcinus orca), which live in the North Pacific waters of the U.S. and Canada.
- Cook Inlet beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), which live in Alaska.
These three species and many others face unique challenges and threats to their survival, but all are at risk of:
- Entanglement in fishing gear or marine debris
- Injury from vessel strikes
- Disturbance from ocean noise
- Illness from pollution or diseases
- Effects of a changing climate.
Director for NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources