Story at a glance

  • Researchers estimate the North Atlantic right whale’s population fell from 366 in 2019 to 336 in 2020.
  • The whale species’ population has been falling sharply since 2011 when their numbers were just under 500.
  • Entanglement in fishing gear and boat collisions are the leading causes of death among North Atlantic right whales, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

One of the world’s most endangered large whale species has hit its lowest population numbers in nearly two decades, and humans are largely to blame, according to researchers. 

The North Atlantic right whale’s population fell from 366 in 2019 to 336 in 2020, the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium estimated Monday

Researchers said the whale species’ population has been falling sharply since 2011 when their numbers were just under 500. Over the past decade, the number of whales has dropped by 30 percent. 

Entanglement in fishing gear and boat collisions are the leading causes of death among North Atlantic right whales, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Climate change is also contributing to the species decline, as warming oceans have led to a diminishing amount of prey. 


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“There is no question that human activities are driving this species toward extinction. There is also no question that North Atlantic right whales are an incredibly resilient species,” Scott Kraus, chair of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, said in a statement. 

“No one engaged in right whale work believes that the species cannot recover from this. They absolutely can, if we stop killing them and allow them to allocate energy to finding food, mates, and habitats that aren’t marred with deadly obstacles,” Kraus said. 

The species has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1970 as commercial whaling had pushed the population to the brink of extinction by the early 1890s. 

The NOAA estimates that more than 85 percent of right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once, which can cut into a whale’s body and cause serious injuries, including death. 


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Published on Oct 26, 2021