360 Right Whales are Endangered: Sad Facts on World Whale Day

  • This decade the North Atlantic right whale became one of the most endangered whales on Earth. The population is no more than 360 individuals.
  • Right whales are threatened with extinction due to shipping, fishing nets and climate change.
  • Researchers have found no sign of a baby whale being born for nearly three decades.
  • Climate change causes right whales to lose food sources. Researchers link climate change to the loss of right whales' food sources.

Researchers have been observing the migration of endangered North Atlantic right whales. It had been a long time since they found any signs of a baby whale being born.

The fate of right whales is like walking through a dead end. The population rate is predicted to be no more than 360 individuals remaining, especially along the coast of North America. This leads to its existence as one of the most endangered large whale species on Earth.

Having the Latin name Eubalaena glacialis, this whale is one of three species of right whale such as the southern right whale and the Pacific right whale. What differentiates the three is only the ocean area they inhabit.

They usually breed during the winter off the southeastern coast of the United States. But now, they often go through seasons without the birth of new babies. This phenomenon has occurred for almost three decades based on aerial observations by the Associated Press (AP).

Apart from that, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), revealed the same thing about the population of Northern right whales shrinking due to fewer whale calves being born. Some researchers even speculate that there has been a change in the whale's food sources.

Nicholas Record, a senior researcher at the Bigelow Laboratory for Marine Science in Boothbay, Maine, said his research links large-scale climate change in the North Atlantic. Changes in ocean temperatures result in the loss of food sources for their species.

"Just when the whales needed their last big meal before winter, but they didn't get it," he was quoted as saying by The New York Times .
As a result they swam farther and farther. And that displacement has created huge problems for the population as a whole. When they may get hungry and move to places with heavy shipping traffic.

Based on NOAA observations, during the birthing season female whales migrate as far as 1,000 miles or 1,600 kilometers from northern waters near New England and Canada to their winter homes in warmer waters near Georgia, South Carolina and the east coast of Florida.

This whale has a stocky body and patches of rough skin or callosities on its head. Uniquely, right whales do not have a dorsal fin. Unfortunately, their habitat includes calving grounds, overlapping with shipping lanes, fishing grounds, and recreational boating activities.

In early January 2024, in South Carolina, a young North Atlantic right whale was seen with serious injuries to its head, mouth and lips caused by a ship propeller. According to NOAA, the calf will have difficulty feeding and will likely die from its injuries.

NOAA noted that of the 16 whale calves born this season, one was injured and two others were missing. Previously they found a dead female whale off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, with a rope wrapped around it. The whale is thought to be a teenager.

Currently, ship collisions and fishing gear entanglements are the most serious threats to Northern right whales. Their journey this time will often encounter danger due to human activity.

Previously, commercial whaling was the most significant threat to reducing the population of this species. Because right whales are considered the "right" target to hunt because they often swim close to coastal waters.

So far NOAA has identified only 70 females that are still reproductively active. Without conservation efforts, these whales will almost certainly be lost forever.

“It is devastating to hear the news of the disappearance of North Atlantic right whales,” said Gib Brogan, campaign director at Oceana, an international conservation group based in Washington.

Apart from shipping and fishing, the impact of climate change is making it increasingly difficult for right whales to find food. This causes nutritional deficiencies, and drives them out of protected areas, which are designated based on species distribution.

“Losing North Atlantic right whales forever is a real possibility,” said Francine Kershaw, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Whales are vital to the ecosystem because of the role they play in circulating nutrients throughout the waters. What would happen to the ocean if the whales disappeared? Isn't our awareness enough? Even though we often commemorate World Whale Day.

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