The Plight of the Right Whale: Can We "Right" Our Wrong?


From time immemorial, people have been fascinated by whales. Fanciful images of these giant marine animals appeared in ancient myths and legends as menacing sea monsters. Today they excite our imagination because of their grace and size, enchanting songs and mysterious habits. The exhibit begins with the first recorded contact with whales and shows how Sag Harbor, Long Island's largest whaling port, participated in the whale "fishery" until the demise of the whaling industry in the 1870s.

Despite the romance, adventure, and profit of the whaling industry in 19th century America, it was a dangerous endeavor and its history is a bitter one. Whales were hunted primarily for their oil, and with the advance of modern technology in the 20th century, commercial whaling became a merciless massacre. Many species – among them the right whale – are now endangered and may face extinction. Having survived the slaughter of the past in small numbers, whales now face new dangers. They collide with large ships, become entangled in fishing nets, and are hunted in violation of international treaties.

Today, conservationists and marine biologists study whale populations and develop ways to protect and restore their habitats. Scientists are learning more about the social structure of whales, their means of communication and other fascinating characteristics in an effort to avoid their extinction. Whale-watching has become a popular recreational activity around the world, helping to build admiration and awareness of this animal's delicate condition.

The future of the right whale, however, which was once plentiful in North Atlantic waters, remain precarious. This exhibit looks at current threats to the survival of the species as well as the heroic efforts to protect them, and asks: Can We Right Our Wrong?

What you can do

There are many things you can do to help save the right whale. Join one of the many local and national organizations that are dedicated to the stuy and protection of whales and endangered marine life:

Ocean Alliance, Lincoln, MA
Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, Provincetown, MA
American Cetacean Society, San Pedro, CA
The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research & Preservation, Riverhead, NY
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

The following tips to protect whales and other marine species in our area are provided by The Riverhead Foundation:

If you spot a whale, note the location of the animal, swim direction, approximate size of the whale, shape and location of the dorsal fin if present, color of the head and the shape of the blow. Note if there is any gear present on the animal (ropes, nets) and any injuries or scars.

If possible, take photos of the animal and email them to: sightings@riverheadfoundation.org

Do not pollute; help keep your local beach free of trash by organizing a beach clean-up.

Educate your family and friends. Let them know how THEY can help too!