VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Stranding after stranding, the significant die-off of the North Atlantic right whale is demanding an immediate response. NOAA has reported more than 20 deaths since December, with fewer than 400 whales left in the species.

The reasons? Vessel strikes and rope entanglements.

“So we have restrictions in place for North Atlantic right whales and they’re seasonal,” said Kim Damon-Randall, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Protected Resources. “They turn on and off depending on the time of year and where the right whales are migrating.”

PEER, or Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, along with The Ocean Foundation, have called for action with a rulemaking petition that recognizes the situation and presents NOAA with a game plan.

“We viewed it as an opportunity to weigh in,” said The Ocean Foundation Pacific Director Jeff Ruch. “Let’s help the agency along, given that they need to report back to Congress that they at least have a strategy.”

With more and more ships out at sea, it just makes sense to have more regulations in place to compensate for traffic.

But this goes beyond more ships at sea.

The North Atlantic right whales aren’t where they usually are, and they find themselves swimming into oncoming traffic.

This also goes beyond the right whale, according to NOAA, Humpback whales have had significant die off since 2017, and manatees since 2021. All three of these species have one commonality linked to their significant die off – chances in the environment that surrounds them.

“That shifting distribution of their prey can put them in harm’s way where there’s more activity, human activity that can impact them,” Damon-Randall said.

These species are looking for food in new places, breeding in different waters, and adapting to the rapid chances of our oceans and our climate.

These changes are felt right here in our own backyard – the Chesapeake Bay. Some of them are more harmful than others, some species adapt with ease and others not so much. It’s a way the environment finds balance.

Chris Moore, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, tours the waters that surround the Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach around dawn.

“You know climate change, in a way, is making our jobs harder in terms of efforts to restore the Bay,” said Chris Moore, a senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “Those really, really important green features along our coast can still support not only the ecological pieces but (also) continu(e) to protect our shorelines.”

Along the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the horizons on our oceans are signs of constant adaptation, so in order to protect, how do we adapt?