Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards, as per the Policy on Communications and Federal Identity.
Recovery Strategy for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Atlantic Canadian Waters [Proposed]
Research and population monitoring undertaken to date indicates that recovery of North Atlantic right whales is technically feasible. A substantial amount of information concerning population abundance, trends and demography is available. The population had been driven nearly to extinction by 1900, but is considered to have been recovering slowly during the middle of the 20th century, following the cessation of whaling. The best available model of population trajectory (Fujiwara and Caswell 2001) indicated population growth rate was initially positive at the beginning of the study period in 1980, but subsequently declined to a negative value by 1995. This initial period of positive population growth has demonstrated that the North Atlantic right whale has the capacity to increase in number from critically low abundance.
The same population model suggests that population growth rates declined below replacement values during the 1990s. This estimated decline in growth was due to a decrease in survivorship over the time period, which may have been caused at least in part by an apparent increase in human-induced mortality. The two major human-induced threats are well-known, and reducing these threats is a major focus of this Recovery Strategy. Consensus among species experts is that reduction of human-induced mortality is possible, tractable, and feasible. Mitigation measures to lessen the impact of these threats have been proposed and some have already been implemented.
For recovery to occur, it is necessary that human-induced mortality be reduced to levels that will allow for potential population growth. It is not possible currently to determine if human-induced mortality can be reduced to this level, nor is it possible currently to determine the overall probability of recovery. However if the required reduction in human-induced mortality is successfully implemented it is likely that recovery is feasible since North Atlantic right whale has demonstrated previously in the post-whaling era that it has the capacity to increase in abundance.
There are no firm estimates of historical population abundance, but rough estimates are available from two sources. Analyses of harvest data from whaling records provide estimates of historical population abundance of less than 10,000 whales. Genetic analyses suggest that historical abundance may have numbered in the hundreds to the thousands.
The lack of firm estimates of historical abundance means that a long-term target cannot yet be determined. However, current knowledge of the status and trends in this population can be used to develop interim targets until the issue of historical abundance is resolved.
The interim Recovery Goal for North Atlantic right whale is:
“To achieve an increasing trend in population abundance
over three generations”.
The current abundance is precariously low and the best estimate of population growth rate was negative in the 1990s (see above). There is an immediate requirement to reduce the probability of extinction through fostering positive population growth rates and increasing abundance. It is difficult to provide firm recovery targets for right whales because a clear threshold for abundance that would ensure their long-term survival is not known. Nevertheless, it is important to state a desirable (positive) trend in population growth in order to provide a context for the development and implementation of recovery measures and research activities.
Generation time in North Atlantic right whales is approximately 20 years. Therefore given an interim recovery target of “An increasing trend in population abundance over three generations”, the minimum time period necessary to achieve this target is around 60 years.
Recovery Objectives and Strategies
Determining and maintaining the necessary conditions both within Canadian waters and abroad in efforts to achieve an increasing trend in population abundance of North Atlantic right whales over three generations will be accomplished by implementing the following recovery objectives and respective strategies. There is a need for Canada to commit effort and resources to support the implementation of the seven recovery objectives and their respective strategies:
· Objective 1: Reduce mortality and injury as a result of vessel strikes;
· Objective 2: Reduce mortality and injury as a result of fishing gear interactions (entanglement and entrapment);
· Objective 3: Reduce injury and disturbance as a result of vessel presence or exposure to contaminants and other forms of habitat degradation;
· Objective 4: Monitor population and threats;
· Objective 5: Increase understanding of life history characteristics, low reproductive rate, habitat and threats to recovery through research;
· Objective 6: Support and promote collaboration for recovery between government agencies, academia, environmental non-government groups,Aboriginal groups, coastal communities and international agencies and bodies;
· Objective 7: Develop and implement education and stewardship activities that promote recovery.
Following each objective is a series of strategies that, when implemented, will contribute to the fulfillment of the corresponding objective. These strategies are designed to provide sufficient detail to facilitate the application of SARA, and to assist the next step of recovery planning, which is the development of recovery action plans.
Objective 1:Reduce mortality and injury as a result of vessel strikes.
Rationale: Vessel strikes remain the most serious documented threat to right whales. To increase the chances for survival, the number and severity of collisions need to be reduced.
a) Better understand the relationship between vessel activity and right whales by evaluating the risk of vessel collisions based on analysis of all available data on the seasonal and inter-annual distribution of right whales and vessel traffic in Canadian waters.
b) Consider, evaluate and implement management strategies that reduce the amount of overlap, in time and space, between vessel activity and right whales (e.g. advisories, routing, speed reduction).
c) Collaborate with shipping interests and operators about ways in which they can, through measurable voluntary action, reduce the number/frequency of interactions between right whales and vessel operations.
Objective 2: Reduce mortality and injury as a result of fishing gear interactions (entanglement and entrapment).
Rationale: A serious threat to right whales is injury and mortality from fishing gear interactions in Canadian waters: this may affect the survival of the species. To increase the chances for survival, the number and severity of entanglements or entrapments must be reduced.
a) Evaluate, promote, and/or implement where necessary, strategies (e.g. gear modifications, effort restrictions) that will reduce the potential for harmful interactions between fishing gear and right whales. Collaboration between researchers, fishers and resource managers on the development and field-testing of modified fishing practices will assist in the identification and application of mitigation measures.
b) Evaluate and minimize the effects of all new and expanding fisheries on right whales.
c) Collaborate with fishers about ways in which they can, through measurable voluntary action, reduce the number/frequency of interactions between right whales and fishing operations.
d) Support emergency response and disentanglement programs in eastern Canada that are able to rapidly respond to reports of entangled or entrapped right whales.
Objective 3: Reduce injury and disturbance as a result of vessel presence or exposure to contaminants and other forms of habitat degradation.
Rationale: A variety of existing or emerging threats to right whales and the quality of their habitat will need to be addressed and reduced where possible. Mitigation activities, including those carried out through stewardship, will be required based on outcomes of research and further identification of the threats. Lack of full knowledge or understanding of threats should not preclude proactive work to reduce risk to right whales and their habitat.
a) Evaluate and reduce the harmful impacts of dangerous substances on right whale habitat including both natural and human-induced sources. Both chronic and acute sources of contamination (e.g. oil spills, vessel discharges, and coastal sources) should be addressed. Particular focus will be on reducing substances with greater risk to the immune system or reproductive success of right whales.
b) Evaluate the potential impacts from existing or future human induced noise in right whale habitats and reduce harmful levels of exposure.
c) Evaluate and reduce the disturbance associated with vessel presence e.g. commercial shipping, fishing, whale watching, recreational boating and research activities.
Objective 4: Monitor population and threats.
Rationale:Knowledge about the population status and their distribution in Canadian waters is incomplete. Monitoring of the population is required to evaluate whether the recovery goal of increasing the population will be met. Similarly, monitoring the nature and level of key threats to right whales is an ongoing requirement in order to respond to issues in a timely manner. Section 2.5 provides a full list and description of information gaps.
a) Promote and conduct regular monitoring of right whales throughout Canadian waters and in particular in known habitat areas.
b) Promote and conduct regular monitoring of existing and emerging threats.
c) Support necropsies of dead animals in Canadian waters to help identify and evaluate the effects of human activities.
Objective 5: Increase understanding of life history characteristics, low reproductive rate, habitat and threats to recovery through research.
Rationale:Knowledge about the biology of right whales, their distribution, their historic abundance, the threats to recovery, and the effectiveness of mitigation measures in Canadian waters is incomplete. Research on these issues is required to guide the application of all recovery activities to protect the species and its habitat. Section 2.5 provides a full list and description of information gaps.
a) Promote and conduct research on right whale life history, historic abundance, and habitat requirements and distribution.
b) Promote and conduct research of existing and emerging threats and effectiveness of mitigation measures.
c) Conduct research and analysis to further evaluate potential for identification of critical habitat in Roseway Basin and other areas (see Schedule of Studies Section 1.9.3.)
Objective 6: Support and promote collaboration for recovery between international agencies and bodies and between government agencies, academia, environmental non-government groups, Aboriginal peoples and coastal communities in Canada.
Rationale: Protection and recovery of right whales is a shared responsibility with regulators and user groups and communities across their range in Canada. In Canada regulators such as DFO (including Coast Guard), Transport Canada, and Foreign Affairs have important and complementary roles. However, foreign governments and international bodies also have responsibilities and/or an interest in protecting this species. Information exchange and conservation efforts, often in the form of recovery action plans, among these various interests should be coordinated and formalized, where appropriate.
a) Support the maintenance of an ongoing multi-stakeholder advisory body in which to discuss right whale conservation and recovery issues.
b) Promote collaboration and coordination among decision makers and levels of government to foster joint conservation efforts and communication surrounding right whale conservation.
c) Promote the involvement of Aboriginal peoples and perspectives in recovery activities.
d) Engage coastal communities and resource user groups in discussions and collaborations to foster right whale recovery and promote the gathering of knowledge of right whales from interested groups.
e) Continue to collaborate with government agencies in the United States on transboundary right whale initiatives.
f) Work with international bodies on right whale conservation issues of interest to Canada.
Objective 7: Develop and implement education and stewardship activities that promote recovery.
Rationale:Education and outreach efforts are important tools to promote recovery efforts with stakeholders and the public at large. Specific materials and programs should be developed targeting a variety of audiences, and maintained and updated frequently.
a) Continue to expand, refine, and update programs to educate mariners about the problems facing right whales, available shore based resources, and how changes to vessel-operations will help address those problems. Targeted groups include: whale watch operators, commercial vessel traffic,cruise ships and recreational boaters, fishers and researchers (see Objectives 1 to 3).
b) Expand and refine collaboration efforts with the fishing industry that promote best practices to reduce the number and severity of whale/fishing gear interactions.
c) Promote a public reporting system for dead, stranded, injured, entangled or entrapped right whales as part of the existing whale disentanglement response program.
d) Develop programs to educate the general public about right whale conservation strategies and stewardship actions.
Measurable performance indicators are a critical component of right whale recovery action plans to gauge the extent that recovery activities contribute to the stated recovery goal for the species. A set of progress indicators have been devised for each of the strategies identified under the seven recovery objectives. At this stage, many of the indicators reflect the current lack of knowledge about right whales, and have been also identified as research activities. During regular intervals, the recovery strategy and action plans will be reviewed; progress indicators should be revised to reflect increasing knowledge. Indicators outlined in Table 2 therefore are preliminary, and subject to change as knowledge increases and as recovery action plans are implemented.
Table 2. List of general indicators of progress to assist in determining the extent that recovery is being achieved. Each set of indicators corresponds to a specific recovery objective forNorth Atlanticright whales in Canadian waters.
|Recovery Objective||Measure of Progress||Performance Indicator|
Reduce mortality and injury as a result of vessel strikes.
§ Management strategies and options to reduce risk have been evaluated and appropriate action taken
§ Information on traffic patterns is maintained and areas of risk identified
§ Rate of interactions in Canadian waters declines
§ Regular analysis of vessel/right whale risk and mitigation measures is conducted
Reduce mortality and injury as a result of fishing gear interactions (entanglement and entrapment).
§ Potential/known interactions of right whale and all fishing industry activities are identified, monitored and documented
§ Management strategies and options to reduce interactions have been evaluated and prioritized with the fishing industry
§ Disentanglement and emergency response capacity is in place i.e. networks of trained responders
§ Rate of interactions in Canadian waters decline
§ Regular analysis of gear/right whale risk and mitigation measures is conducted
§ Increased involvement in mitigation efforts by fisheries associated with higher risk gear
§ Possible disentanglement efforts are conducted
Reduce injury and disturbance as a result of vessel presence or exposure to contaminants and other forms of habitat degradation
§ Potential/known threats to habitat have been identified and documented
§ Mitigation measures developed to reduce known harm to habitat quality from human activities have been evaluated and implemented
§ Assessment of impacts of contaminants on right whales are completed
§ Harmful levels of noise in North Atlantic right whale habitat is taking place at acceptable levels and durations
§ Human-induced impacts on food supply are understood and reduced where possible
Monitor population and threats.
§ Population monitoring activities are conducted regularly
§ Monitoring of existing and emerging threats is regularly conducted
§ Historic and current sightings are compiled and updated.
§ Knowledge from monitoring activities is accessible to a broad range of user groups
§ Information collected in monitoring programs is disseminated
§ Regular forums to discuss monitoring results are held
§ Necropsies are conducted when possible
Increase understanding of life history characteristics, low reproductive rate, habitat and threats to recovery through research.
§ Priority knowledge gaps have been addressed
§ Knowledge from research activities accessible to a broad range of user groups
§ Critical habitat studies have been completed
§ Research is published
§ Regular forums to discuss research results and threat mitigation are held
§ Critical habitat in Canadian waters is identified and protected
Support and promote collaboration for recovery between government agencies, academia, environmental non-government groups, Aboriginal groups, coastal communities and international agencies and bodies.
§ Regular meetings among interested parties to discuss right whale conservation are held
§ Aboriginal peoples participation in right whale conservation efforts
§ Canadian participation in international and bilateral discussions to promote right whale protection and recovery
§ Efforts to coordinate research across jurisdictions of the North Atlantic are underway
§ Successful implementation of right whale conservation activities increases
§ Cooperative bilateral or multilateral arrangements to advance right whale research and conservation
Develop and implement education and stewardship activities that promote recovery.
§ Awareness programs are underway to target key user groups, government, and the general public
§ Evaluation of the effectiveness of outreach efforts
§ Public have ability to report dead, stranded, entangled and entrapped right whales
§ Measured increase in awareness and support for recovery activities
§ Key user groups work to develop and implement best practices (stewardship)
§ Right whale emergencies are reported in a timely fashion
There are a number of gaps in our knowledge about the right whale in Canadian waters. These gaps occur in areas of current and potential threats, biology and ecology, and habitat requirements. The following is a list of priority actions that are required to fill the knowledge gaps.
1. Evaluate existing or potential mitigation techniques that reduce vessel strikes in Canadian North Atlantic right whale habitat;
2. Identify mechanisms involved in North Atlantic right whale responses to oncoming vessels,e.g. ability to avoid vessel strikes to help design potential mitigation;
3. Evaluate potential mitigation techniques, such as gear modification, that may reduce entanglement or entrapment in fishing gear that is used in Canadian waters (existing and new fisheries);
4. Evaluate the overlap in space and time of North Atlantic right whales and fishing gear to help design potential mitigation;
5. Identify response mechanism of right whales to acoustic stimuli, and definition of harmful effects to help design potential mitigation;
6. Identify contaminant levels in right whales and contaminant sources in their Canadian habitat;
7. Identify the potential for harmful effects from recreational or research activities and determine thresholds to help design mitigation;
8. Investigate and evaluate potential threat from pathogens
Ecology and Biology
1. Investigate the reason for lower than normal reproductive rate;
2. Investigate the population distribution and abundance outside of the two known areas of right whale concentration in Canadian waters;
3. Investigate the right whale mating system and sources of impaired reproductive success;
4. Investigate the physiological condition of right whales in relation to their reproductive performance;
5. Investigate the increasing variability in annual calf production and inter-calf interval through time;
6. Develop reliable estimate of historical (pre-whaling) population abundance, for use in determination of a recovery target;
7. Collect pertinent traditional knowledge of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.
1. Identify any additional critical habitat in Canadian waters;
2. Identify factors and indicators influencing shifts in habitat preference and use;
3. Identify wintering ground(s) used by males and by females not due to give birth;
4. Identify location of the non-Bay of Fundy nursing grounds;
5. Identify prey distribution and production in eastern Canadian waters, and its relationship to the annual distribution of right whales.
6. Identify and model oceanographic processes that influence spatial and temporal distribution of right whales in Canadian waters.
Statement of When One or More Recovery Action Plans Will Be Completed
Recovery action plans are the documents that lay out how recovery strategies are to be implemented. The action plans take recommendations from the recovery strategy, either individually or collectively, and chart out who needs to be involved and to what extent in carrying out the proposed activities.
Following the adoption of this recovery strategy under SARA and posting on the Public Registry, an action plan related to Roseway Basin will be developed within 2 years. It is expected that this will be the first of multiple action plans outlining steps to be taken to implement the recovery strategy for this species, with a second action plan within 5 years. In the interim, work can still begin and continue on many of the strategies in this document. Therefore, recovery implementation will be an ongoing activity that can occur in the absence of any formal action plan. Furthermore, the Recovery Strategy recognizes the need for adaptive management; as new information becomes available, the actions for recovery may be modified.
Actions Completed or Underway
Many right whale recovery and research efforts have been initiated by government and non-government organizations in the past 20 years. The Right Whale Recovery Team was first assembled in 1997 and published a recovery plan in 2000 that outlined the key issues facing the right whale and the research and actions required to encourage recovery (WWF/DFO 2000). Many of the actions proposed in that plan were completed or are currently underway. The following provides the highlights of actions undertaken to date, with details and references to many of the studies described throughout the Section 1 (Background).
Mitigation of threats
The Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) has provided financial support to a variety of right whale projects in Atlantic Canada, promoting direct involvement of a wide number of community and industry groups and individuals involved in recovery efforts. Projects have included the collection of sightings data to the development of specific mitigation activities with industries or user groups that could affect right whales.
The two areas in which North Atlantic right whales congregate in Canadian waters were designated as “Conservation Areas” by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 1993 - one in the Grand Manan Basin in the lower Bay of Fundy and one in Roseway Basin on the western Scotian Shelf. The overall goal of this non-regulatory designation was to raise mariners’ awareness of North Atlantic right whales, e.g. included areas on relevant navigation charts. Thus far, the most significant conservation achievement in Canada has been the 2002 adoption by the International Maritime Organization and 2003 relocation of the Bay of Fundy Traffic Separation Scheme (shipping lanes) from an area with high right whale density into an area with lower right whale density. This work led by Transport Canada reduced the relative potential for accidental collisions by approximately 80%. This amendment was successfully implemented by Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Canadian Coast Guard modifying navigational charts, notices to mariners, sailing directions and vessel traffic procedures. In 2007, Transport Canada submitted another proposal to IMO for the designation for a recommendatory and seasonal Area to Be Avoided on Roseway Basin, south of Nova Scotia for all vessels of 300 gross tonnage and above.The Maritime Safety Committee of IMO adopted this measure in October 2007 as a Recommended Seasonal Area to be Avoided (ATBA; coordinates 43° 16’ N 064° 55’ W; 42° 47’ N 064° 59’ W; 42° 39’ N 065° 31’ W; 42° 52’ N 066° 05’ W) and it was implemented in May 2008.
Outreach to marine vessel operators has been a high priority of the recovery team to reduce accidental collisions and disturbance to North Atlantic right whales, particularly in key habitat areas,i.e. Grand Manan and Roseway Basin. Inclusion in the Annual Notice to Mariners, Sailing Directions, educational brochures, wheelhouse placards, and seasonal Canadian Coast Guard whale alerts are aimed at achieving this goal. The aim is to encourage them to avoid these areas if possible, and to provide guidance to the marine vessel community while in the presence of whales.
A Code of Ethics was established by a non-profit organization working with whale-watching operators to minimize the impact of this activity on right whales. Approximately half of the Bay of Fundy whale-watching companies have accepted the guidelines. Whale watching and ecotourism operators throughout Atlantic Canada and Quebec have adopted similar codes of ethics to reduce interactions with large whales, including right whales.
A protocol has been established for releasing entangled whales from fishing gear. The volunteer Campobello Whale Rescue Team responds to entanglements in Canadian waters (primarily the lower Bay of Fundy) and collaborates with US based rescue groups at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and the New England Aquarium.
The Right Whale / Lobster Fishery Mitigation Strategy was implemented for the first time in 2007 at the start of the lobster seasons in Lobster Fishing Areas (LFAs) 36 and 38 in Southwest New Brunswick (SWNB). The Mitigation Strategy provides guidelines for lobster harvesters to avoid interactions with right whales in the lobster fishing grounds. A 24-hour hotline was established at the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association to record and provide up-to-date information on the location of right whales. In 2006, a relatively large number of right whales remained close to mainland SWNB and Grand Manan and DFO took reactive management measures to allow the lobster fishery to proceed with reasonable protection for the whales. In 2007, in conjunction with fishing associations, scientific interests and environmental groups, the SWNB Area office developed a proactive mitigation strategy prior to lobster season to reduce the risk of interactions between right whales and the harvesters in LFAs 36 & 38.
A variety of efforts are underway in Maritimes Region that aim to provide an integrated, ecosystem based and collaborative ocean management framework. These include the Southwest New Brunswick Marine Resources Planning initiative and the Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management (ESSIM) initiative. These efforts involve a variety of stakeholders and regulators and provide a planning forum in which to develop and implement ecosystem objectives and indicators to guide the management of a variety of activities, including those that affect the right whale.
Researchers from the New England Aquarium (Boston MA) and their collaborators continue to survey for right whales each year in Canadian waters during August and September; in Grand Manan Basin in the lower Bay of Fundy and Roseway Basin on the Scotian Shelf. Regular boat-based surveys are occasionally supplemented by aerial surveys. The researchers monitor population size and calf survival, as well as collecting skin, blubber and faecal samples for use in studies on genetics, contaminants, hormones, and life history.
Photographs taken during research and monitoring studies of right whales are used to identify individual whales based on unique markings. Photographs from many studies are compiled and archived in an extensive photographic catalogue and database at the New England Aquarium. The catalogue permits researchers to use these dates to monitor life history parameters (births, deaths, reproductive success, habitat use patterns and abundance) and the rate of human-induced scarring on right whales.
Collaborative research projects underway at the St. Andrews Biological Station include an evaluation of response of right whales to vessel activity, the creation of an East Coast whale sightings database, and efforts to understand the distribution of right whales and their habitat in Canadian waters. Whale identification training is provided to members of the marine industry; such as whale watch naturalists and other mariners working in the Bay of Fundy who voluntarily report sightings and to increase the amount of sighting data in the early and latter part of the season. It is thought that these stewardship programs may lead to the discovery of new areas of right whale activity in addition to the well known area in the Grand Manan Basin.
DFO and Dalhousie University have a project underway designed to assess the risk of entanglement posed by fishing gear to right whales in the Bay of Fundy. The analysis is investigating which fisheries and gear sectors pose the greatest risk to right whales. The results will be used to advise industry and fishery management on actions that would minimize the risk to right whales while at the same time attempting to minimize disruption of the commercial fisheries in the region. In 2004-2005, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) held meetings with industry representatives and produced a draft discussion paper exploring options for reducing entanglement. These efforts by WWF-Canada have resumed in 2007 through support of HSP and other funders, with a focus on working with the fishing industry to develop and implement solutions which will reduce right whale entanglements. WWF-Canada, in collaboration with oceanographic researchers at Dalhousie University have funded a post doctoral fellow to conduct a quantitative analysis of right whale distribution and the risk of fishing activities in Canadian waters.
Dalhousie University, together with several partners, is conducting an evaluation of vessel traffic and right whale strike probabilities along the coast of North America. This effort compiles available time and space data related to both vessels and right whales in an effort to identify areas where risk of collisions is greatest and to determine the effectiveness of mitigation efforts, e.g. Roseway ATBA. The results will support the investigation and development of future management strategies with the maritime user community.
This Recovery Strategy is not using Subsection 83(4) of SARA to exempt persons from the prohibitions of SARA as they relate to this species.
Anticipated Conflicts or Challenges
While there has been significant progress in narrowing knowledge gaps in recent years, it is widely accepted that research efforts must continue and increase. A major challenge facing the recovery of right whales is the lack of knowledge about several important aspects of the species and how to reduce threats. The need for consistent resources to address knowledge gaps, implement recovery strategies and respond to right whale emergencies is part of this challenge. Accordingly, areas where more information and resources are needed have been identified in this strategy.
The migratory and pelagic habits of the species present a significant challenge to fully implement all recovery strategies. Recovery of the right whale will require significant international coordination and cooperation to reduce or remove the negative impacts of human activities across the species’ range.
Targeted studies and stewardship actions in the implementation phase of recovery are expected to yield a better understanding of what is needed to achieve a viable population (and hence recovery) of right whales in Atlantic waters. A long time scale for recovery must be considered in evaluating the ultimate success of recovery measures. In the absence of complete information, however, recovery actions are still possible and are promoted as key objectives in this strategy. Through an iterative and adaptive approach to recovery, new information will inform the development of further mitigation measures and strategies for recovery implementation.
- Date Modified: