Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

There are believed to be only about 400 right whales left in the world.

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

The federal government has announced new measures to protect North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence that have been dying from ship strikes and getting caught in fishing gear.

The well-being of the endangered species is of great concern to Canadians, Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Monday. There are believed to be only about 400 right whales left in the world.

“With the tragic loss of six North Atlantic right whales this year, our government is implementing urgent new measures and is taking additional actions to further protect this iconic and endangered species,” Mr. Wilkinson said in a statement.

Story continues below advertisement

The new protections will include increased aerial surveillance to try to spot the whales in the gulf and extending speed limits for ships east of the current speed-restriction zone, where vessels will have to reduce speed to 10 knots when a right whale is spotted in the area.

Ships travelling in a buffer zone of up to five nautical miles around these areas will also have to slow down if a whale is seen – a doubling of the previous buffer zone of 2.5 nautical miles.

Smaller ships – those longer than 13 metres – will now also be subject to the speed restrictions, where previously only ships more than 20 metres were affected.

Six North Atlantic right whales have died in eastern Canadian waters since early June. No deaths were recorded last year in Canadian waters, but 12 right whales were found dead in 2017, mainly from ship strikes and entanglements.

Last week, The Canadian Press reported that previous measures taken to protect North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from being struck by ships and getting caught in fishing gear were not going far enough, according to a federal scientific review.

Speed restrictions and fishing-zone closings have lowered risks that the endangered whales will be harmed, but dangers remain – especially in the waters outside protected zones. Ships have been spotted speeding up just ahead of slow-down zones, which significantly increases mortality risk to the whales, according to the national study.

The scientists who completed the review also raised concerns about the size of the slowdown zone being reduced in 2018 in an area north of Anticosti Island, an especially risky area for vessel strikes. This, coupled with limited monitoring of the whales in some of these areas, prompted calls for increased surveillance.

Story continues below advertisement

Further shipping-related restrictions are now being implemented after three deaths this year have been preliminarily attributed to vessel strikes, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said.

“These [new] measures build on those I had recently announced,” Mr. Garneau said. “The government of Canada remains committed to taking every action necessary to help protect this important species including those initiatives contained in the oceans protection plan and the whales initiative.”

In addition to the six deaths this year, a further three whales are currently entangled in the southern waters of the gulf and efforts are under way to free them.

To reduce future entanglements in fishing gear, the trigger to close a fishery is being adjusted so that if even one right whale is spotted anywhere in the gulf, all non-tended fixed-gear fisheries will be closed for 15 days in addition to existing fishery closings in the gulf.

Major fixed-gear fisheries in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence were closed for the season on June 30. Some fisheries do remain open, but the federal fisheries department says the scale of fixed-gear fishing activity will decrease.

Money is also being dedicated to enhance monitoring and conservation efforts and to beef up the response program that attempts to free marine mammals in distress, including disentangling North Atlantic right whales from fishing gear.

Story continues below advertisement

These new measures are in effect as of 12:01 a.m. July 9.

Because North Atlantic right whales cross international waters, Canadian officials will also be seeking to meet with counterparts in the United States to explore joint measures to address risks faced by the whales.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies