Lawmakers push for more right whale protections

Kaitlyn Budion/SHNS"Calvin," a life-sized inflatable North Atlantic right whale, filled one end of the Great Hall on Monday. Advocates held a State House briefing on the threats right whales face in the wild.

BOSTON — Advocates and legislators gathered Monday to discuss the threats facing North Atlantic right whales and to call for more conservation efforts.

Rep. Dylan Fernandes and Sen. Julian Cyr hosted a briefing on efforts to protect the right whale with "Calvin," a life-size 42-foot long inflatable right whale. Right whales are one of the most endangered whale species, with only an estimated 411 whales remaining, according to the New England Aquarium, and most right whale deaths are caused by fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes.

Advocates called on Congress to pass H.R. 1568, the Scientific Assistance for the Very Endangered Right Whales Act, which was introduced by Congressman Seth Moulton. The bill would authorize funding to develop technology to reduce entanglement and vessel strike deaths. The bill was introduced March 6, and the House Natural Resources Committee voted it out favorably on May 1.

The Trump administration has pursued offshore gas and oil exploration along the East Coast, which would include seismic surveys to determine the location and size of possible gas and oil reserves. However, advocates say the surveys would cause extensive damage to marine life, especially right whales, which stay close to shore to feed and calve.

The noise from building offshore wind turbines is also a concern. High noise levels can increase stress in right whales and can affect their ability to communicate, which could then affect mating and feeding activity.

This is a particular concern because the birthing rates for right whales are already so low. While female right whales can give birth every three to five years once they reach maturity, in recent years they do so much less often. In 2017, the average inter-birth interval for calving mothers was more than ten years, according to the New England Aquarium.

Fernandes gave resolutions in support of conservation efforts to the New England Aquarium and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

"These resolutions send a strong message that here in Massachusetts we care about marine mammals we care about marine species and we're sending a message to those in Washington that we need them to step up and take action to follow Massachusetts' lead in protecting the right whale," he said.