Innovative Technologies Promoted By U.S. President Could Be the Last Hope for North Atlantic Right Whales

The North Atlantic right whale, a species teetering on the brink of extinction, has become a focal point of conservation efforts. With only about 360 individuals left, including fewer than 70 reproductively active females, the situation is dire.

Most recently, a North Atlantic right whale was struck by a ship off the coast of South Carolina, the New York Times reports.

The Biden-Harris Administration, recognizing the urgency, has announced a partnership to develop protection technologies for these whales, funded by the Inflation Reduction Act.

Climate change is affecting the food supply and migration patterns of Right whales.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Moira Brown and New England Aquarium
Climate change is affecting the food supply and migration patterns of Right whales.

Entanglement, Strikes, and Climate Change

Primary threats to North Atlantic right whales include entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes. Climate change exacerbates these challenges, altering their habitat and affecting their survival, NOAA Fisheries reports.

“We are dedicated to working with our partners to conserve and recover the endangered North Atlantic right whale population,” said Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “We look forward to MITRE providing their expertise and technical knowledge to develop new ideas addressing this challenge.”

Right whales can grow up to 55 feet in length and weigh up to 70 tons.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / National Marine Sanctuaries
Right whales can grow up to 55 feet in length and weigh up to 70 tons.

The $82 Million Initiative

The administration has allocated $82 million towards this cause. This investment aims to reduce vessel strikes and increase the use of on-demand fishing gear, among other measures.

“This partnership, made possible by funding from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, will allow us to develop and explore new technologies and tools to address the North Atlantic right whale crisis,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.

Right whales do not have a dorsal fin, unlike many other whale species.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Pcb21
Right whales do not have a dorsal fin, unlike many other whale species.

Breaking Down the Funding

The funding for this project targets multiple threat reduction strategies and technologies:

  • Monitoring and Modeling: $36 million for passive acoustic monitoring and other technologies.
  • Vessel Strike Reduction: $20 million for whale detection and avoidance technology.
  • On-Demand Fishing Gear: $18 million for developing and deploying safer fishing gear.
  • Law Enforcement: $5 million to enforce regulations more effectively.

The Partnership with MITRE

The partnership with MITRE, a research and development center, aims to develop technologies for whale detection, vessel strike avoidance, and ropeless fishing gear.

“MITRE has 65 years of experience solving problems that require interdisciplinary expertise, combined with our maritime and underwater engineering capabilities, and access to state-of-the-art labs, such as the new BlueTech Lab,” said Beth Meinert, senior vice president, MITRE Public Sector. “We look forward to collaborating with NOAA Fisheries on the identification and development of new scalable, widely deployable solutions to address this important problem.”

Right whales do not have a dorsal fin, unlike many other whale species.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Pcb21
Right whales do not have a dorsal fin, unlike many other whale species.

A Road to Recovery

These efforts are part of NOAA Fisheries’ overarching “Road to Recovery” for the North Atlantic right whale, aiming to mitigate threats and monitor progress. The species has been undergoing an Unusual Mortality Event since 2017, with 121 whales affected.

A Collaborative Effort

The Biden-Harris Administration’s initiative represents a significant step in right whale conservation. By leveraging technology and enforcing regulations, there is hope for the North Atlantic right whale’s survival.

As Coit remarked, “This funding allows us to invest in technologies to reduce the risk of vessel strikes, increase the use of on-demand fishing gear, and improve enforcement of existing federal regulations.”

Such a multifaceted approach could be the key to turning the tide for one of the ocean’s most endangered species.

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