Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are threatening the survival of the North Atlantic right whale, one of the most endangered whales with an estimated population of about 350. With eight recorded deaths in the past 16 months and a population growth rate that has declined since 1980, scientists say that unless emergency management actions are taken the population will face a catastrophic decline and become extinct.
A report in the July 22 issue of the journal Science says the recent loss of eight whales, six of them adult females and three carrying near-term fetuses, is unprecedented in 25 years of study of this species, Eubalaena glacialis. Four of the females were beginning to bear calves, and since the average lifetime calf production is as high as five calves, the deaths of these females represents a reproductive loss of as many as 21 animals.
After almost 1,000 years of whaling that brought the species close to extinction in the early 20th century, the North Atlantic right whale has been protected from commercial whaling since 1935 but has faced constant threats from human activities, mainly collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear. In contrast, southern right whales, Eubalaena australis, are thriving, with a population estimated at more than 10,000 animals and growing at more than seven percent each year.
Shelley Dawicki | EurekAlert!
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