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Right Whales: A Love Story- Collaborating to save a species

Before we jump into this episode, we want to extend a huge thank you to all who added their voice to the critical habitat campaign! We submitted over 2,000 signatures to NOAA Fisheries, and are hopeful that NOAA will make the right decision and expand the North Atlantic right whale critical habitat to include the southern range of currently designated critical habitat in the southeast, their mid-Atlantic migratory corridor and the waters off coastal Maine. To learn more about the full Act Right Now campaign to save right whales from extinction, visit our Act Right Now campaign page

Now, please enjoy this ninth and final episode of our Right Whales: A Love Story series!

Collaborating to Save a Species: The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium

By Heather Pettis

An integrated approach to understanding and mitigating problems facing the endangered North Atlantic right whale using innovative techniques and technologies and continued analyses of existing databases has become increasingly important over the past 15+ years. The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, initially formed in 1986 by five research institutions to share data among themselves, was expanded in 1997 to address these needs. Currently, the Consortium membership is comprised of more than 200 individuals from various research and conservation organizations, shipping and fishing industries, technical experts, U.S. and Canadian government agencies, and state and provincial authorities, all of whom are dedicated to the conservation and recovery of the North Atlantic Right whale. The Consortium, managed by an Executive Board, is internationally recognized and has been identified as a model for establishing other species-related consortia.

The Consortium’s mission is to work towards the survival of the North Atlantic right whale. To accomplish this goal, the Consortium membership is committed to long-term research and management efforts and to coordinate and integrate the wide variety of databases and research related to right whales to provide management groups with the best scientific advice and recommendations on right whale conservation. My role as the Executive Administrator of the Consortium is to facilitate activities that advance this mission.

One of the most important activities the Consortium undertakes is the Annual Meeting held each fall where researchers, managers, educators, and other stakeholders come together to share ideas and information, assess research and management initiatives, develop new studies and work with government partners to implement and monitor science based conservation measures. The Annual Meeting includes presentations on current research, management, conservation, and educational initiatives. Intentionally built into the meeting agenda are repeated breaks for discussion on work presented as well as strategizing for ways to improve the effectiveness of research and management collaborations. These discussions are always the highlight of the meeting and are critical to advancing our mission of saving this species.

The Annual Meeting also provides me the opportunity to present to the Consortium membership the annual right whale “report card” which serves to summarize the status of the cataloged population, mortalities and entanglement events, and a summary of current management and research efforts that have occurred over the previous 12 months. These annual report cards are quite valuable in assessing and tracking the effects of research and management strategies over time.

The Consortium was founded on the principal that sharing data among those in the right whale community would provide the best chances for researchers and managers to make a difference to this population. As such, we collect, store and manage all known sightings and photographs of North Atlantic right whales in two major Consortium Databases; the Sightings Database and the Identification Database. These databases represent an important scientific resource, and access to the data for scientific, educational, conservation and management purposes is encouraged and granted by a Consortium Board review process. To put the utility of Consortium data into perspective, the Consortium has received 102 requests for access to Consortium Databases and more than 50 publications reference the NARWC databases and/or the Annual Right Whale Report Card since 2010 alone.

Throughout the year there are other smaller, but quite important, Consortium related activities that I managed “behind the scenes” on behalf of the Consortium. First, I manage the Consortium website,, which provides current and relevant information regarding right whales and Consortium activities, assistance with access to the various Consortium databases, information and registration details for the Annual Meeting, and hosts issues of the publication Right Whale News. I also manage the Consortium email newsletter that is distributed to interested subscribers and contains relevant right whale news, notice of emerging management initiatives, upcoming events, and new publications. Lastly, I meet with the Consortium Board periodically to discuss emerging issue facing right whales and related opportunities for greater membership involvement and activism. 

The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium employs a level of data sharing and collaboration focused on a single species that is unmatched and continues to be an internationally recognized model for global consortia efforts. By overseeing the right whale information databases, providing data access to interested stakeholders, supporting a public website, hosting annual information-sharing meetings, and facilitating management and research collaborations, the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium remains active in its mission to directly and tangibly aid in the recovery of the North Atlantic right whale species. 

Heather Pettis is an Associate scientist with the New England Aquarium and coordinates the annual North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. We are thankful to have someone with her passion and expertise on the team working to save this majestic species. 

WDC is grateful to our guest bloggers and value their contributions to whale conservation. The views and opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of, and should not be attributed to, WDC.