Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales

North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered species of large whales.

The North Atlantic right whale population is estimated to have just over 500 individuals remaining. In 2015, they were listed as endangered under the Canadian Species at Risk Act; however, they have not yet shown signs of recovery.

North Atlantic right whales are migratory animals mostly found along the Atlantic Coast of Canada during the summer and fall months where they are exposed to human-activities. This species is particularly vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear and ship collisions. In Canada, these whales tend to congregate in the Bay of Fundy and along the Scotian Shelf. However, recently large numbers have been sighted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.


2% Of The North Atlantic Right Whale Population Lost In Two Months

Since June 2017, ten North Atlantic right whales have washed up along the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This is an unusually high number of deaths. Of the first six necropsies completed, preliminary reports for three of the whales indicated that blunt force trauma contributed to their deaths. It is logical to assume that the trauma likely came from collisions with ships.

Traditionally, the right whales’ feeding grounds included the Bay of Fundy and Roseway Basin, which are determined to be critical habitat for right whales in Canada.

In 2003, shipping lanes were rerouted in the Bay of Fundy to reduce the potential for ship collisions. It is estimated that the rerouting measures reduced the potential for ship collisions with right whales by 90%. However, as the whales have been appearing over the past five years in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, scientists speculate that the whales may be shifting away from their traditional habitat.


Let’s Talk Whales

The Canadian federal government has pledged to bring “absolutely every protection to bear” to prevent the deaths of North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada are working closely to address the situation and provide the resources necessary to protect the endangered species.

Recently, the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada launched Let’s Talk Whales, an online public engagement that asks Canadians to review recovery efforts for the North Atlantic Right Whale, the St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga and the Southern Resident Killer Whale and provide recommendations for priority actions.

“Whales captivate our imaginations but these magnificent mammals are also incredibly vulnerable. New threats such as ship strikes, entanglements, pollution and climate change are taking a toll on whales around the world. Letstalkwhales.ca is an opportunity to not just be part of the discussion but also part of the solution. Go online and share your ideas. An all-hands-on-deck approach is needed to further protect these three endangered whales.”

Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and Member of Parliament for Burnaby North-Seymour

Views submitted as part of this engagement will inform potential immediate actions to help the recovery of these iconic whales. Canadians can participate online here until September 19, 2017.


On August 11th, the Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, and the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Dominic LeBlanc, announced further measures for the protection of North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The government of Canada has decided to implement a temporary mandatory slow down for vessels of 20 metres or more in length effective immediately. Speed must be reduced to a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence from the Quebec north shore to just north of Prince Edward Island, as shown in the chart below.  

North Atlantic Right Whale Sightings

Transport Canada inspectors, with assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard’s Marine Communications and Traffic Services, will enforce this precautionary measure until the right whales have migrated from the areas of concern. Failure to comply will result in a penalty of up to $25,000.

Learn more about the temporary mandatory slow down measures here

Learn more about the North Atlantic right whale population and what is being done to protect them: 

North Atlantic Summary Report

Review of the Effectiveness of Recovery Activities for North Atlantic Right Whales

Action Plan for the North Atlantic Right Whale in Canada: Fishery Interactions 

Recovery Strategy for the North Atlantic Right Whale

#clearfacts #ourcoasts #whales

Published August 10, 2017

Last modified on July 17, 2018