2017–2022 North Atlantic Right Whale Unusual Mortality Event
Since 2017, elevated numbers of dead or seriously injured North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) have been documented, necessitating an Unusual Mortality Event declaration and investigation.
Beginning in 2017, elevated mortalities in North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) have been documented, primarily in Canada but some in the United States, and were collectively declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME).
In 2017, there were a total of 17 confirmed dead-stranded whales (12 in Canada; 5 in the United States) and in 2018, three confirmed dead-stranded whales in the United States. In 2019, nine dead whales stranded in Canada, and one dead whale stranded in the United States. In 2020 and 2021, two mortalities each were documented in the United States. To date in 2022, no mortalities have been documented.
The current total confirmed mortalities for the UME are 34 dead stranded whales (21 in Canada; 13 in the United States), and the leading category for the cause of death for this UME is “human interaction,” specifically from entanglements or vessel strikes.
Additionally, since 2017, 19 live free-swimming non-stranded whales have been documented with serious injuries from entanglements or vessel strikes. The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires NOAA Fisheries to distinguish between injuries to marine mammals that are serious and those that are non-serious. Serious injury determination is a detailed assessment process that uses data, such as body condition and parameters of the human-caused injury, collected from living whales to determine an individual whale’s prognosis for survival. A serious injury designation indicates a whale is likely to die from those injuries (although it was alive at its last sighting). More recent serious injury determinations (e.g., 2021 and 2022) are preliminary and subject to change as we receive additional information. Therefore, the preliminary cumulative total number of animals in the North Atlantic right whale UME has been updated to 53 individuals to include both the confirmed mortalities (dead stranded or floaters) (n=34) and seriously injured free-swimming whales (n=19). This number better reflects the confirmed number of whales likely removed from the population during the UME and more accurately reflects the population impacts.
Given that the latest preliminary estimate suggests there are fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales remaining, these 53 individuals in the UME are a significant setback to the recovery of this endangered species.
North Atlantic Right Whale Causes of Death for Confirmed Carcasses
|Year||Month||NARW ID||Sex||Location First Observed Dead||Preliminary Cause of Death|
|2017||June||#3746||M||Gulf of St Lawrence||Undetermined; could not be examined|
|2017||June||Glacier #1402||M||Gulf of St Lawrence||Suspect blunt force trauma (vessel strike)|
|2017||June||Panama #3190||M||Gulf of St Lawrence||Undetermined; advance decomposition|
|2017||June||Starboard #3603||F||Gulf of St Lawrence||Acute entanglement (gear present; anchored)|
|2017||June||Contrail #3512||F||Gulf of St Lawrence||Undetermined; could not be examined|
|2017||June||#1207||M||Gulf of St Lawrence||Probable blunt force trauma (vessel strike)|
|2017||July||Unk||M||Gulf of St Lawrence||Probable blunt force trauma (vessel strike)|
|2017||July||Peanut #2140||M||Gulf of St Lawrence||Suspect blunt force trauma (vessel strike)|
|2017||July||Alien #2630||M||Newfoundland||Undetermined; could not be examined|
|2017||July||Unk||F||Newfoundland||Undetermined; could not be examined|
|2017||July||Mystique #1911||F||Newfoundland||Undetermined; could not be examined|
|2017||September||#4504||F||Gulf of St Lawrence||Acute entanglement (gear present)|
|2019||June||Wolverine #4023||M||Gulf of St Lawrence||Suspect blunt force trauma (vessel strike)|
|Gulf of St Lawrence||Probable sharp force trauma (vessel strike)|
|2019||June||Comet #1514||M||Gulf of St Lawrence||Probable blunt force trauma (vessel strike)|
|2019||June||#3815||F||Gulf of St Lawrence||Undetermined; not examined|
|2019||June||#3329||F||Gulf of St Lawrence||Undetermined; not examined|
|2019||June||Clipper #3450||F||Gulf of St Lawrence||Probable blunt force trauma (vessel strike)|
|2019||June||Unk||U||Cape Breton||Undetermined; not examined|
|2019||July||#3421||M||Gulf of St Lawrence||Undetermined|
|2019||July||Unk||M||Cape Breton||Undetermined; not examined|
|2017||April||#4694||F||Barnstable, MA||Blunt force trauma (vessel strike)|
|2017||August||Unk||M||Martha's Vineyard, MA||Probable entanglement|
|2017||August||Couplet #2123||F||Cape Cod, MA (offshore)||Undetermined; could not be examined|
|2017||October||Unk||M||Nashawena Island, MA||Suspect entanglement|
|2017||November||Picasso #2611||F||Martha's Vineyard, MA||Undetermined; advance decomposition|
|2018||January||#3893||F||Virginia Beach, VA (offshore)||Chronic entanglement (gear present)|
|2018||August||#4505||M||Monomoy, MA||Probable entanglement|
|Nantucket, MA (offshore)||Probable acute entanglement|
|2019||September||Snake Eyes #1226||M||Long Island, NY(offshore)||Probable acute entanglement|
|2020||June||#5060 (2020 calf of #3560)||M||Elberon, New Jersey (offshore)||Sharp and blunt force trauma (vessel strike)|
|2020||November||Unk||M||Core Banks, North Carolina||Perinatal mortality|
|2021||February||2021 Calf of #3230||M||St. Augustine, Florida||Sharp and blunt force trauma (vessel strike)|
|2021||February||Cottontail #3920||M||off Myrtle Beach, SC||Chronic entanglement (gear present)|
North Atlantic Right Whales Initially Determined to be Seriously Injured (Last Seen Alive)
|Year||Month||NARW ID||Sex||Location First Observed||Initial Serious Injury Determination|
|2017||July||Mayport #4094||F||off Sainte-Marie Saint-Raphael, New Brunswick||Entanglement|
|2018||July||#3312||M||off Miscou Island, New Brunswick||Entanglement|
|2018||July||#3843||M||off Grand Manan, New Brunswick||Entanglement|
|2019||July||#3125||M||off Perce, Quebec||Entanglement|
|2021||July||#4615||M||off Miscou Island, New Brunswick||Entanglement|
|2022||May||Sundog #3823||F||off Gaspe, Quebec||Entanglement|
|2022||June||Meridian #1403||M||off Miscou Island, New Brunswick||Entanglement|
|2017||July||Diablo #3139||F||off Nantucket, MA||Entanglement|
|2018||February||#3296||M||off Jekyll Island, GA||Entanglement|
|2018||December||#2310||M||off Nantucket, MA||Entanglement|
|2018||December||#3208||M||off Nantucket, MA||Entanglement|
|2020||January||2020 Calf of #2360||U||Altamaha Sound, GA||Vessel Strike|
|2020||February||Dragon #3180||F||off Nantucket, MA||Entanglement|
|2020||March||Unk||U||off Georges Bank||Entanglement|
|2020||October||#4680||M||off Sea Bright, NJ||Entanglement|
|2021||January||#1803||M||off Georgia/Florida state border||Entanglement|
|2021||February||Infinity #3230||F||off St. Augustine, FL||Vessel Strike|
|2021||March||Snow Cone #3560||F||off Cape Cod Bay, MA||Entanglement|
|2021||December||2021 Calf of #3560||U||off Cumberland Island, GA||Entanglement*|
* “Dependent” – serious injury. Unless additional information proves a dependent calf survives the loss or serious injury of its mother, a confirmed case involving a dependent calf of a dead or seriously injured mother is counted as a serious injury to the calf.
Note: Graphs and/or tables represent confirmed mortalities and injuries reported in each country and do not always reflect the location of the injury or death of the animal. Carcasses may drift across national boundaries; therefore, a carcass may be sighted or reported in one country even though the mortality occurred elsewhere. Species or stocks that migrate across national boundaries often carry their illnesses, injuries, or exposures to toxins with them. For mortality and serious injury determinations in these species, transboundary collaboration is critical in determining the causes of injury, illness, and mortality for each animal.
Causes of the North Atlantic Right Whale UME
Full necropsy examinations have been conducted on 24 of the 34 dead whales and final results from some examinations are pending. Necropsy results can be found online from seven of the Canadian whales from 2017 and from five of the whales from 2019. Photos and other available documentation for the live whales were reviewed by the NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center as part of the serious injury determination process and those listed above were designated as seriously injured.
As part of the UME investigation process, NOAA assembled an independent team of scientists to coordinate with the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events to review and interpret the data collected, guide sampling of stranded whales, evaluate sighting effort, review logistical considerations, and determine the next steps for the investigation. We continue to investigate these mortalities, but preliminary findings support “human interactions” as the primary category of the cause of death for the majority of the dead stranded whales, specifically vessel strikes or rope entanglements. Additionally, 19 live whales have been documented as seriously injured either by vessel strikes or entanglements during the time frame of the current UME (2017-2022).
Report a Stranding
The most important step that the public can take to assist investigators is to immediately report any sightings of injured or stranded whales (dead or alive). In the United States, make a report by calling the Greater Atlantic Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at (866) 755-6622 or the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at (877) 433-8299. In Canada, call the Marine Animal Response Society at 1-866-567-6277 or the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network at 1-877-722-5346. You can also contact the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards on VHF Channel 16. Do not approach injured or dead animals.
- North Atlantic Right Whale Updates
- August 9, 2022, North Atlantic Right Whale Unusual Mortality Events Factsheet
- January 31, 2022, Snow Cone Watch: Updates on Entangled Right Whale Mother and Newborn Calf
- February 28, 2021, Adult North Atlantic Right Whale Found Dead off South Carolina
- February 14, 2021, North Atlantic Right Whale Calf Stranded Dead in Florida
- January 8, 2021 Report of the Health Assessment Workshop for North Atlantic Right Whales
- November 23, 2020, First Known North Atlantic Right Whale Calf of the Season Washes Up Dead off North Carolina
- October 20, 2020, Entangled North Atlantic Right Whale Spotted off Nantucket
- October 12, 2020, Entangled North Atlantic Right Whale Spotted off New Jersey
- June 25, 2020, North Atlantic Right Whale Carcass off New Jersey
- February 28, 2020, Emaciated Adult Female North Atlantic Right Whale Spotted Entangled off Nantucket
- January 13, 2020, North Atlantic Right Whale Calf Injured by Vessel Strike
- Frequent Questions: 2017 North Atlantic Right Whale UME
- Fisheries and Oceans, Canada
- Transport Canada
- Marine Animal Rescue Society, Canada
- Donate to the Unusual Mortality Event Contingency Fund
- About Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events
- Active and Closed Unusual Mortality Events
- Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program