2017 has been the worst for North Atlantic right whales, which were already on the brink of extinction.
Recently, their worldwide population declined to just 450, and of them, 17 died this year alone.
According to U.S. federal government officials, the endangered whales might become extinct unless new measures are taken for their protection. The numbers of the North Atlantic right whales, which are considered to be among the rarest marine mammals of all whale species in the world, have plunged since 2010.
According to The Guardian, a year of high mortality coincided with a year of poor reproduction, aggravating the population of female whales that have shrunk faster than their male counterparts. Just 100 breeding females are left.
“You do have to use the extinction word, because that’s where the trend lines say they are,” said John Bullard, the northeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “That’s something we can’t let happen.”
What's worse, humans continue to threaten the lives of these whales. “The current status of the right whales is a critical situation, and using our available resources to recover right whales is of high importance and high urgency,” said Mark Murray-Brown, an Endangered Species Act consultant for NOAA.
Vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear such as nets are commonly cited reasons for right whales' deaths. According to a study published in the journal Endangered Species Research, scientists examined right whale feces and found whales that suffer long entanglements in fishing gear produce hormone levels that indicate high stress. The stress has a negative impact on their ability to reproduce even when they survive entanglement.
“My colleagues are trying to find solutions so we can find out how they can continue to fish, but not entangle whales,” said the study’s co-author, Elizabeth Burgess, an associate scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium in Boston.
Meanwhile, another study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, suggests the whales move around much more than previously thought. According to some scientists, the whales might be venturing outside of protected areas in search of food, putting themselves in danger.
The Trump administration is not doing anything to protect the right whale. In fact in June, Team Trump discarded a rule protecting endangered whales and sea turtles dying from long sea nets.
Thumbnail Credits: Reuters, Maxi Jonas