A new study published on Thursday found that North Atlantic right whales have shrunk by an average of 3 feet over the past 20 years.
The study published in the peer-reviewed science journal Current Biology said the shrinking of the marine giants is due to human activity, The Associated Press reports. Encounters with fishing gear, ship collisions and climate change are all contributing to diminishing the size of these whales.
These whales previously grew up to 46 feet in length but drone and aircraft data show that the younger generation is currently projected to grow to about 43 feet on average.
The shrinking could be a threat to the species's survival, as the whales could become too small to get pregnant or nurse their young.
The AP notes that there are only about 356 North American right whales left, a drop of more than 100 since 2010.
Executive director of Whale and Dolphin Conservation — North America Regina Asmutis-Silvia, who was not a part of the study, told the AP that the results of the study go beyond mere size.
“Ignoring it only leads to an inevitable tragedy, while recognizing and treating it can literally save a life, or in this case, an entire species,” Asmutis-Silvia said.
Last year the North American right whale was listed as "critically endangered," which is only one step above extinction.
“We are running out of time to save these magnificent yet very vulnerable animals,” New England Aquarium’s president and CEO Vikki N. Spruill said at the time. "Whaling nearly killed right whales in the early 1900s. Science tells us that we need to take immediate and urgent steps to prevent that from happening now.”