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Global Right Whale Population Faces Extinction Due to Fish Ropes, Birth Decline

Sep 05, 2016 05:02 AM EDT
North Atlantic Right Whale
A new study revealed that the North Atlantic right whales may face extinction due to the increasing numbers of entanglement and decrease birth rates.
(Photo : By Moira Brown and New England Aquarium [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons)

A new study revealed that the global population of the most endangered large whale species in the Atlantic may soon be extinct due to the increasing rates of lethal entanglements and decline in birth rates since 2010.

The new study, published in the journal Frontiers of Marine Science, showed that about five North Atlantic right whales die every year due to entanglements. Furthermore, the researchers also notice a sharp decline of the right whales' birth rates in the last five years.

"Right whales need immediate and significant management intervention to reduce mortalities and injuries from fishing gear," the authors explained in a press release. "Managers need a better understanding about the causes of reduced calving rates before this species can be considered on the road to recovery. Failure to act on this new information will lead to further declines in this population's number and increase its vulnerability to extinction."

For the study, the researchers analyzed the rising number of right whales dead associated with human activities. The researchers noted that the global population of right whales has neared extinction before whaling for the specie was banned in 1935. Between 1970 and 2009, the most likely caused of unnatural death in right whales are ship strikes and entanglements, with 44 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

The recent move of both the Canadian and the U.S. government to slow ships and move the shipping lanes out of the migratory path of right whales had reduced the deaths caused by ship strikes to 15 percent. However, entanglements became the most prevalent killer of right whales at 85 percent between 2010 and 2015.

The researchers were also concern regarding the declining birth rates of the right whales. Since 2010, the birth rates of right whales have decreased by 40 percent. Severe and traumatic entanglements might be affecting the whale's reproductive health, Scientists is also looking into the possibility that the decline of prey availability due to the changes in ocean temperatures might weakened the whales and their ability to reproduce. Other possible cause of the dramatic decline of right whale's birth rate is the potential long-term effect of the disease event in the 1990s.

In 2011, the western North Atlantic right whale population numbered at least 465. The new study estimates an annual grow of two to three percent in the whale's population in the North Atlantic, while right whales in the other region may experience sic to seven percent population growth every year.

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