Threats Still Exist Despite a Slowing Right Whale Population Decline

One of the largest whale species that is most threatened worldwide is the North Atlantic right whale. The population decline seems to be abating. However, scientists alert us to the fact that rising waters, ship strikes, and fishing gear still pose a threat to these massive marine mammals. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commercial whalers nearly wiped off the species by the early 1890s. Because they floated when they were killed, they were known as the “right” whales to hunt, hence their name. Although there is no longer a threat from commercial whale fishing, the population has never fully recovered. For many years now, they have been safeguarded by US law.

The North Atlantic right whale has a length of over 16 meters and a mass of over 63,000 kilos. It’s likely that whales live for 70 years. Nevertheless, the average lifespan of a female North Atlantic right whale is currently only 45 years. It is not old age that causes such shorter lifespans, but rather human activities. According to NOAA estimates, there are less than 350 right whales left off the East Coast of the United States. There was a roughly 25% decrease in their population from 2010 and 2020. The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium (NARWC) reported last week that there seems to be a plateau in the decline in the population. According to the NARWC, a robust year of birthing in 2021—in which 18 calves, or newborn whales—kept the populations of whales high.

The group did issue a warning, noting that a significant issue for whales continues to be the high number of deaths caused by whales being entangled in fishing gear or being hit by ships. “Compared to earlier, the news is not as awful. Though not particularly light or hopeful, my heart is a little less heavy,” Philip Hamilton remarked. He works as a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life and is a member of NARWC. “The whales shouldn’t have to give birth to enough babies in order to undo the damage we’re doing to them.” Warming waters and climate change, according to scientists, are other factors contributing to the decline in whale populations. Copepods are tiny marine creatures that whales consume.

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