Northern Right Whales Are on the Brink, and Trump Could Be Their Last Hope

Mr. Trump in June declared himself the lobster industry’s savior by announcing fishermen would be eligible for bailout funds previously only given to farmers and ranchers. And earlier in June the Trump administration opened the Northeastern Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the Atlantic Ocean’s only fully protected marine sanctuary, to commercial fishing despite threats to the whales.

A major factor in the right whale’s fate is climate change. Rising global temperatures along with natural variation have caused the Gulf of Maine’s deep waters to warm nearly 9 degrees Fahrenheit since 2004, faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans for much of this century.

That has significantly reduced supplies of the right whale’s primary food source, fat-rich zooplankton that thrive in cooler waters. Following the food, right whales that used to spend summers in the Bay of Fundy have been congregating farther north, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where commercial shipping and Canadian fishermen have proven deadly.

Climate change is also imperiling lobster fishing. By 2050, warming is expected to cut lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine by as much 62 percent, according to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. But the Trump administration is reversing efforts to combat climate change, and is loath to impose new restrictions on the already embattled industry.

“Instead of acknowledging these risks and initiating dynamic management in these newly utilized areas, NOAA is entrenched in the old way of doing things, resulting in more right whale injury and mortality,” said Kyla Bennet, science policy director for the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, known as PEER, a group that defends the rights of civil servants.

Emails released to PEER under public record laws show the Trump administration also has tried to avoid bad publicity about entangled whales. When an adult female right whale, given the name Dragon by researchers, was spotted swimming near the surface with a buoy and rope stuck in her mouth in February, outside groups had to prod NOAA to tell the public about it.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, a division under NOAA, was “freaked out about any notion of NOAA putting this story in the news,” Tim Cole, a fisheries biologist with NOAA, wrote to a colleague. “But they’d be all over another calf sighting,” he added.