A Whale of a Problem: An Attempt to Mitigate Human Impact on the Right Whale

by sleeming on November 10, 2017 - 8:41pm

From a young age, the word “whale” brings to mind the familiar large and robust marine mammal that dominates the open ocean. It’s humongous size and strength makes people believe that this creature is virtually indestructible. Unfortunately, this is not the case. 

An article in the Toronto Star written by Allan Woods discusses why the right whale population is declining. Right whales are the rarest species of all whales.  According to National Geographic, they can be found in Atlantic or Pacific waters and can grow to be 50 feet and weigh 70 tons. These whales are classified as endangered, with less than 500 left in the world. Over the summer of 2017, 12 individuals were discovered dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, alerting both conservationists and biologists. An additional 4 had been discovered dead in American waters. Autopsies show that some whales died from blunt-force trauma. Veterinarians have confirmed that the trauma, including a fractured skull and internal bleeding, were the result from colliding with large ships. Other whales died as a result of becoming tangled in fishing lines.

Another article, also published in the Toronto Star, written by Kevin Bisset discusses new regulations set in place to help mitigate human impact on the right whale. Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc along with scientists, aboriginal groups and representatives from fisheries gathered and discussed solutions to prevent deaths of right whales. New regulations include a speed limit of 10 knots in areas between the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec and Prince Edward Island. Additionally, a 100-metre buffer zone between vessels and marine mammals has been implemented. New fishing gear that utilizes fewer ropes, or ropes that could be easily broken by whales, is also a proposed alternative. The fishing season dates for crab are being changed to ensure that fishing equipment is removed before whales arrive at the Gulf after migrating. Whales are great for generating tourism, and are beloved by local people and communities. With approximately 458 left in the world now, conservationists are desperate to prevent any more deaths from occurring.

These types of solutions utilize substantive policy instruments which are implemented to directly change behaviour to solve an issue. Regulatory instruments are substantive policy instruments which rely heavily on legislation to prohibit unfavorable behaviours. Regulatory instruments have been popular in Canada in the past, especially in preventing and controlling pollution, but can also be used for conservation. In this case, implementing the speed limit and perhaps making dangerous fishing equipment illegal would constitute as regulatory instruments. Regulatory instruments can fail however, if regulations are not strictly implemented and penalties for not following regulations are not delivered consistently. In the case of the right whale, it can be seen that disregarding these regulations result in penalty, as four vessels have been fined for going over the speed limit as of October 2nd. 

In my opinion, regulatory instruments will be most beneficial in aiding the conservation of the right whale as they can be implemented quicker than most other conservatory efforts. Regulatory instruments would take less time to implement than allocating a protected area for the whales. Furthermore, whales have large home ranges, and the likeliness that a protected area would encompass their entire range is slim.

In summary, there is hope for the right whale, as regulatory instruments were implemented quickly over the course of a few months. Moving into the future, to guarantee the survival of this species, it must ensured that these instruments are strictly obeyed.

Bissett, Kevin. (2017, November 9). Ottawa to order ships to give right whales a 100-metre buffer zone in Gulf. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/11/09/ottawa-to-order-ships-to-....

National Geographic. Animals: Right Whales. Retrieved on November 9,, 2017 from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/group/right-whales/.

Woods, Allan. (2017, October 5). Blunt-force trauma killing endangered right whales, autopsies show. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/10/05/blunt-force-trauma-killin...


This is a very interesting article and you did a really good job of depicting the problem as well as exposing the solutions the government has come up with to prevent more deaths. It would also have been interesting for you to discuss if marine pollution has any effects on this endangered species. For example, belugas, when found dead contain so much PCBs, mercuries, and other chemicals that their bodies are classified as chemical wastes. You could also have touched upon whale hunting. The narwhals are an example as they are often killed off for their ivory tusk which can sell for a lot of money.
This si a pressing issue as the right whale is not the only specie of whale in danger, or Marine creatures for what it matter, to be in danger. it is an important subject to touch upon as in a few decades, the whales we are used to see might not even exist anymore. For example, another endangered species is the bowhead whale, which has been hunted so much that its population has been reduced to 8% of what it used to be. We could also think about the gray whales whose population has been reduced to 100.

link: https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/10-of-the-most-endange...

About the author