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First annual Right Whale Day in Mass. sparks conversation among marine experts

A 9-year-old female right whale (left) and a smaller right whale spotted off the coast of Jekyll Island.
Courtesy Sea to Shore Alliance/ NOAA Research Permit 20556
A 9-year-old female right whale (left) and a smaller right whale spotted off the coast of Jekyll Island.

Experts and activists are honoring the commonwealth’s first annual Right Whale Day today.

Before leaving office, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker passed a bill recognizing April 24th as a day to promote preservation of the critically endangered species.

For local right whale experts like Scott Landry at the Center for Coastal Studies, everyday is Right Whale Day, but, he said, he’s grateful to know the whales could be top of mind for others.

“This is probably our biggest shot of getting the public aware of this issue. So sure, we’ve had horrific entanglement cases that sometimes grab headlines and people's attention to the issue,” he said. “But this, I think, is is bigger than any of that. And it's our one big shot to really get people on board.”

Experts estimate that there just about 340 North Atlantic right whales left in the world, with climate change, boat collisions, and entanglements in rope and fishing gear serving as leading causes of death.

“The more people understand what the species is up against, the more people who are thinking about it, maybe solutions can be found that are workable for everyone.”

Others, like long-time right whale researcher Peter Corkeron, find different meaning in the day.

“People are going to have to realize that unless things change pretty quickly,” he warned, “we've got 15 or 20 years worth of Right Whale Days, and then you'll be celebrating something that's gone.” 

Ultimately, he said, a successful Right Whale Day will be one that sparks conversations about what it would take to protect the whales.

“Let's not just celebrate it,” Corkeron said. “Let's use it, take it as an opportunity to have a good hard look at ourselves and say, ‘what do we want? What do we prefer to have: quick Amazon Prime deliveries and lobster fishing the way it’s been going, or right whales?’”

Virtual and in-person events to recognize the first annual Right Whale Day will be held at the Center for Coastal Studies and New England Aquarium, where a life-size, inflatable right whale, named Calvin, will be on display from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m..

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.