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Efforts to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales get $500K boost

Efforts to preserve the endangered North Atlantic right whale got a boost Monday with $500,000 in funding from the Biden administration to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. Photo courtesy NOAA Fisheries
Efforts to preserve the endangered North Atlantic right whale got a boost Monday with $500,000 in funding from the Biden administration to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. Photo courtesy NOAA Fisheries

March 4 (UPI) -- Efforts to preserve the severely endangered population of North Atlantic right whales were bolstered Monday with $500,000 in funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

Officials from NOAA Fisheries hailed the grant from the Biden administration as a key moment in their fight to prevent the extinction of the right whales, with only approximately 360 individuals remaining in the world.

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Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said the money will go toward working with NASA to develop new satellite tagging technologies allowing observers to more accurately identify and track the remaining right whales to prevent entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes -- seen as among the primary threats to their survival.

"Our team at NOAA Fisheries looks forward to working with NASA given its strong track record of bringing new technologies and approaches to pressing societal problems," Coit said in a statement, adding that climate change also is contributing to the whales' march toward extinction.

The funding is coming from President Joe Biden's $891 billion Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, of which $369 billion is earmarked for energy security and climate change programs over a 10-year span.

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With fewer than 70 reproductively active females left in the wild, the right whale population needs to be carefully monitored, according to Steve Rader, program manager for NASA's Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation in Houston, who noted that improved satellite technologies to track the whales pioneered by the space agency could allow ocean users to respond accordingly when the endangered animals are detected.

"Open innovation provides a unique tool to further technology development and scientific discovery for the benefit of all, and we look forward to working with NOAA Fisheries on this important ecological endeavor," Rader said.

North Atlantic right whales have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1970. They are sometimes referred to as the "urban whale" due to their proximity to populated, coastal environments.

The number of new calves born has been trending below average in recent years, NOAA says.

In addition to entanglements and vessel strikes, a 2023 study found they are among the marine mammal stocks in the western North Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea deemed "very highly vulnerable" to climate change.

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