Endangered whale spotted in Icelandic waters

Author // James Robbins Categories // Whale & Dolphin General News

Endangered whale spotted in Icelandic waters

The North Atlantic right whale, which is critically endangered, was spotted by a whale watching company from Reykjavik.

The sighting came on 23rd July, with the animal since having been identified as a 10 year old male known as Mogul. The animal was last seen in April off of the coast of Massachusetts.

North Atlantic right whales were hunted near to extinction as they were the "right" whale to kill - they are slow moving, spend large amounts of time near the surface in coastal waters and float when killed because their body is 40% blubber.

They feed on copepods, a tiny crustacean that they collect by swimming with their mouths open, filtering water through their baleen as it goes out the sides of their mouths. Their population is estimated to consist of just 300-500 individuals, and change in the distribution of their food sources means they have been seen with increasing frequency in the Gulf of St Lawrence, which has put them at increased risk of bycatch and ship strike.

The dire situation this species finds itself in has been compounded by the fact that no new calves have been seen this season. Female North Atlantic right whales gestate for one year, nurse for a further year and then spend three years recovering before they are able to breed again. This extended breeding cycle is made worse by the fact that females spend more time nearer the surface than males, putting them at higher risk of ship strike.

Research has also suggested that females entangled in fishing gear are unable to build up sufficient fat reserves to breed in the future, even if freed, and with the small population size every individual unable to bear young has a devastating impact on the species' prospects for the future.

ORCA encountered the North Atlantic right whale for the first time in October 2017 during a cruise with Saga Cruises. The team who observed the animal were able to offer support to the captain as additional marine mammal observers, helping to minimise the risk of disturbing the animals. We also have a cruise team with Saga in Iceland at the moment, with two further teams on their way for cruises with Noble Caledonia and P&O Cruises respectively.