After wintering in the coastal waters of Florida and Georgia, right whales are back in the Gulf of St. Lawrence! The first two North Atlantic right whales of the season were spotted east of Chaleur Bay on May 3 during an aerial survey conducted by the Government of Canada.
This sighting immediately led to the implementation of the new dynamic protection measures planned by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. As a result, an area of 2,000 km² was quickly closed off to commercial fishing for approximately two weeks in order to limit the risk of entanglement. If rights whales continue to be seen in this area, it will remain closed for the remainder of the season.
As of April 28, and even before the arrival of the two cetaceans, a slowdown corridor had been put in place to reduce the risk of collision.
While exceptional, these measures are commensurate with the scale of the conservation issue. With an estimated population of fewer than 410 individuals, the North Atlantic right whale is considered an endangered species. However, in recent years, these whales have been more present in St. Lawrence waters than they have been historically, causing new challenges in terms of cohabitation. In 2017, significant mortality – 17 carcasses, or 3% of the population – was attributed to entanglement and ship strikes. In 2019, an additional 10 right whale carcasses were found.