Endangered whale population nears 20-year low
One of the rarest marine mammals on Earth — the North Atlantic right whale — saw its population fall by 10 percent in the last year, according to a group of scientists and ocean life advocates, ABC News reported Monday.
In 2019, there were only 366 of these whales left, and that population dropped further to 336 in 2020, the lowest number in nearly 20 years, per the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium.
Commercial whaling has greatly reduced the number of right whales. They have been listed as endangered by the U.S. for the past 100 years, ABC News reported.
A graph put out by the New England Aquarium shows the drastic nature of the population’s decline.
The #NorthAtlanticRightWhale population continues to decline.
Today, the @NARWC announced that the species population dropped to 336 in 2020, an 8% decrease from 2019. The newly released estimate is the lowest number in nearly 20 years.
— New England Aquarium (@NEAQ) October 25, 2021
Only a decade ago, the whales had a population as high as 480, according to ABC, but human factors and poor reproduction continue to hinder their growth.
The animals are susceptible to dying while getting caught in fishing gear or after colliding with large ships, and even when they do survive, these incidents often make them less able to mate, explained Scott Kraus, the consortium’s chairman, to ABC News.
“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,” Kraus said in a statement, as reported by CBS Boston. “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.”
These whales feed and mate near New England and Canada but travel to Georgia and Florida to calving grounds in the fall before they eventually return up north in springtime, explained ABC.
The segment of the federal government that oversees and regulates ocean affairs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reportedly emphasized that the new number is an early estimate that is preliminary in nature and has not yet been peer reviewed.
According to CBS Boston, experts have been cautiously optimistic about 18 right whale mother-calf pairs this year, though they note that this number is lower than the average of 23 from the last decade.