Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 9, 2020


Kristen Monsell, (510) 844-7137,

Right Whales Decline as Deadly Entanglements Continue, IUCN Finds

GLAND, Switzerland— North Atlantic right whales are moving closer to extinction, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared today in an update to its “Red List of Threatened Species.” The large whales found off the East Coast of the United States and Canada are declining because of entanglements in commercial fishing gear and ship strikes.

Today’s announcement follows President Trump’s June 5 executive order allowing commercial fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which could increase the entanglement threat to right whales, as well as the administration’s 2019 rollback of key regulations intended to protect endangered species.

“Entanglements and ship strikes are pushing these amazing animals to the brink of extinction,” said Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program. “The United States and Canada must do more to protect whales from speeding ships and slow, painful deaths in fishing gear.”

North Atlantic right whales, which can reach 55 feet long and weigh up to 70 tons, are among the rarest whales on Earth.

The new IUCN assessment deems right whales “critically endangered,” IUCN’s most serious category of risk. The assessment estimates there are roughly 400 animals left, fewer than 250 of which are mature.. It lists ship strikes and entanglement as the primary threats to the species, and notes that climate change is exacerbating such risks by pushing the animals into new habitat areas as they follow their food.

In April the Center and allies won a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service for its failure to adequately protect right whales from entanglements in U.S. lobster gear. The parties are now filing legal briefs to settle on the appropriate remedy.

The Center and allies have also been urging the Canadian government to protect right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and other Canadian waters from ship strikes and entanglements in snow crab and other commercial fishing gear.

“We should be closing more right whale habitat to fishing, speeding the transition to ropeless gear and requiring large ships to slow down,” Monsell said. “These are some common-sense measures both U.S. and Canadian officials should adopt to save these beautiful whales.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

center locations