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The right whale population has fallen again, bringing them closer to extinction


The North Atlantic right whale is edging closer to extinction. It's a critically endangered species, and its numbers have fallen again. There are only 340 right whales, scientists report. Barbara Moran from NPR member station WBUR has more.

BARBARA MORAN, BYLINE: The report from the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium says there were only 15 calves born in 2022, down from 18 born last year. Heather Pettis is a research scientist at the New England Aquarium and executive administrator of the consortium. She blames the low birth rate at least in part on stress and injury caused by fishing gear.

HEATHER PETTIS: Females who are entangled - they delay reproduction, having calves until they're much older, if at all.

MORAN: Entanglement and ship strikes are the leading causes of death for right whales, but the fishing industry is opposed to additional regulation. In Massachusetts, the lobster industry is already required to use rope that breaks more easily to prevent entanglements, and most state waters are closed to lobster fishing for three to four months each year. Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association, calls the existing regulations draconian.

BETH CASONI: It's frustrating. The industry is definitely at its wit's end because - how much more can they do when a closure isn't enough?

MORAN: Federal agencies have released a draft strategy to protect right whales as the offshore wind industry takes shape, but some advocates want the federal government to do more, like enabling a rapid switch to ropeless fishing gear. Erica Fuller is with the Conservation Law Foundation.

ERICA FULLER: Rather than just apportioning a 10 million or a $13 million fix or helping fishermen get to ropeless gear, we need to be looking at hundreds of millions of dollars.

MORAN: It's unclear whether any of these initiatives will be enough to save the whale from extinction.

For NPR News, I'm Barbara Moran in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Barbara Moran