By Ramona du Houx

February 16, 2022

Washington – Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) introduced the “Right Whale Coexistence Act,” formerly known as the SAVE right whales act on February 16. This important legislation aims to support the recovery of the North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species, by providing funding to help reduce the primary causes of right whale deaths: entanglement and vessel collisions. Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA-06) is introducing companion legislation in the House. 

“Despite ongoing efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales, the species has struggled to recover, with fewer than 340 whales currently remaining,” said Senator Corry Booker. “I’m proud to introduce this bicameral legislation that will fund a collaborative and comprehensive approach between the public and private sectors to help protect this highly endangered and iconic species.”

If the Right Whale Coexistence Act becomes law, it would establish a new grant program representing $15 million annually from 2022-2032 in new funding to develop, test, and implement innovative technologies and other strategies that have the greatest likelihood of reducing the risk of entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes.

“This legislation will put the North Atlantic right whale population on the road to recovery,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Decades of human exploitation, collisions with marine vessels, and entanglements with fishing equipment have tragically brought these beautiful animals to the brink of extinction. With only a critical number of whales left in our waters, the grant program established by the Right Whale Coexistence Act is urgently needed to preserve our marine ecosystems.”

State and tribal agencies, research institutions, nonprofit organizations, vessel owners and operators, members of maritime industries like fishing, shipping, and boating, and any other entity with the required expertise for right whale conservation, may apply for grants. The bill also prioritizes projects that involve private sector stakeholders and that will provide economic benefits to small businesses in the United States. It also requires periodic reports to Congress on the results and effectiveness of the program.

“For those in the First State lucky enough to have seen the right whale from our beaches—or for anyone who knows the importance of maintaining a diverse, vibrant marine ecosystem—we know we’ve got to act before it’s too late,” said Senator Carper. “With this bill, we can once again recommit to keeping our oceans healthy, our planet protected, and the right whale safe for generations to come.”

The bill comes at a pivotal point in the fight to save the North Atlantic right whale from extinction. Right whales have been experiencing a precipitous decline since 2010 and fewer than 340 whales now remain. Fifty whales, including three calves, are known to have been killed or seriously injured since 2017, and the true number of deaths may be three times higher. Without immediate and concerted conservation action to address entanglement and vessel strikes, this iconic species could be effectively extinct within decades.

“While the recent growth in the number of endangered North Atlantic right whale calves provides a glimmer of hope, that fragile progress is not enough to save the species without further intervention,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Our legislation will help protect these wonderful creatures from threats to their survival.”

Although North Atlantic right whales have been formally protected from whaling since the 1930s, they are vulnerable to vessel collisions and entanglements in fishing gear, the two leading causes of injury and death to the species today. Since 2017, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration first declared an Unusual Mortality Event for North Atlantic right whales, the species’ population has continued to dwindle, and the most recent population estimate from 2021 is the lowest estimate in the last 20 years.

“The New England coast is an important area for the North Atlantic right whales to forage and feed. Our coastal communities, in turn, depend on the whales to support a healthy marine ecosystem,” said Congressman Seth Moulton. “This legislation will create new opportunities to save these critically-endangered animals. We can’t let another species go extinct on our watch.”

The Right Whale Coexistence Act has been endorsed by the following businesses and organizations: Animal Welfare Institute, Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, Born Free USA, Center for Biological Diversity, Cetacean Society International, Conservation Law Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, EDF Renewables, Endangered Species Coalition, Environment America, Environmental Investigation Agency, Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, Inland Ocean Coalition, International Fund for Animal Welfare, International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket, NY4WHALES, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Oceanic Preservation Society, Ocean Conservation Research, Ørsted, the Pew Charitable Trusts, Save the Manatees Club, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, World Wildlife Fund.

“The North Atlantic right whale needs our help now more than ever,” said Francine Kershaw, Senior Scientist at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council.) “The sooner Congress can move this legislation, the better our chance of ensuring right whales survive and rebound for future generations.”