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Recovery Strategy for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Atlantic Canadian Waters [Proposed]


Right whales (Eubalaena spp), once common in temperate waters of all the world’s oceans, were seriously depleted globally by eight centuries of whaling (IWC 1986). Today, the populations in the North Atlantic (E. glacialis) and North Pacific (E. japonica) (“northern” right whales) are in danger of extinction, while some populations in the southern hemisphere, E. australis, (“southern” right whales) are showing signs of a strong recovery (IWC 2001b). Two species of right whale occur in Canadian waters, E. japonica in the Pacific and E. glacialis in the Atlantic. This recovery strategy will only address North Atlantic right whales, estimated to number 322 [1] individuals (COSEWIC 2003). 

The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is a large (up to 17 m) whale, generally black in colour with occasional white belly patches and no dorsal fin.  A migratory animal, the North Atlantic right whale travels along the east coast of North America primarily from eastern Florida to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland.  The role of Canada in protecting North Atlantic right whales and promoting their recovery is crucial because a very high proportion of the extant population spends all or part of the summer and autumn months in Canadian waters. 

North Atlantic right whales are listed as Endangered under Schedule I, Part 2 of SARA, which results in legal protection and mandatory recovery requirements, which are administered by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). This recovery strategy summarizes the best available information on the biology and status of the North Atlantic right whale, and reflects our current knowledge about this animal and the need for cooperation and coordination in its recovery. The recovery strategy will be accompanied by one or more action plans (produced as a separate document), also a requirement under SARA. Action plans list the measures that are to be taken over the next 5 years to implement the recovery strategy. It is intended that this strategy will provide a mechanism to work toward minimizing threats to North Atlantic right whales both nationally and internationally, and will eventually result in their recovery.

This recovery strategy builds on the substantial efforts by the North Atlantic right whale recovery team, which was established in 1997, sponsored by World Wildlife Fund Canada and DFO, and formed to bring together the various experts and interests involved in the conservation of the species.  This resulted in the production of a comprehensive recovery plan (WWF/DFO 2000) that provides a foundation for this document.

[1] Represents number of catalogued North Atlantic right whales thought to be alive in 2003 (COSEWIC 2003). An accurate population estimate for the species is yet to be calculated, however, Kraus and Rolland (2007) suggest the current population numbers 350 animals.