Story at a glance
- The North Atlantic right whale is critically endangered due to the effects of climate change.
- Warming oceans are depleting the species’ food supply and forcing them to forage in new areas.
- The journey in itself is perilous, putting the whales at risk of being struck by vessels or tangled in fishing nets.
The North Atlantic right whale is critically endangered due to the climate crisis.
The revelation comes amid a new report published in the journal Oceanography on Tuesday, which found ocean warming due to climate change is a leading factor in the depletion of the species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classified North Atlantic right whales as critically endangered in July 2020.
North Atlantic right whales typically forage for crustaceans in the Gulf of Maine, as its main food supply inhabits cold waters. However, the water in the Gulf of Maine has been recorded as warming faster than 99 percent of oceans worldwide over the last decade, depleting the whales’ food source.
The lack of food has forced the whales to migrate to Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence, but it’s a perilous journey for the whales. The Gulf of Maine has policies such as vessel speed restrictions in place to protect the whales, but when traveling to forage the whales are at risk of being struck by vessels or caught in fishing nets.
The lack of a food source has also affected the North Atlantic right whale’s reproduction, causing a decline.
“When they can’t build those thick layers of blubber, they’re not able to successfully get pregnant, carry the pregnancy and nurse the calf,” marine ecologist Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, one of the study’s authors, told The Guardian.
While 2009 saw 39 calves born, none had been born in the first part of 2018.
The population has declined by 26 percent over the last decade, with only 356 North Atlantic right whales left on Earth.
“I think broadly,” Meyer-Gutbrod said, “we need to think about other species and how they’re managed and try to be more proactive about predicting the impacts of climate change on their distribution.”
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