Saving the North Atlantic Right Whale - North Americadon't fail our whale
Listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the North Atlantic right whale is on the brink of extinction. According to a recent publication of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, only 336 North Atlantic right whales now remain. The new figures refer to the population size in 2020 and are again significantly lower than the previously calculated population size of about 366 animals.
"The new population estimate for this already critically endangered whale species is staggering," says Sharon Livermore, IFAW's Director of Marine Conservation. "It tells us that the North Atlantic right whale population has declined by eight percent since 2019. The population has been shrinking for ten years, and we know the reasons. They are all due to human causes and decisive action to save these whales is urgently needed."
Off the northeast coast of America, the right whales' habitat overlaps with both the fishing grounds of lobster fisheries and with busy shipping routes. Lobster traps, which are connected to buoys on the water's surface by vertical lines, pose a great threat to whales and other marine mammals who become entangled in their ropes. 86% of all living North Atlantic right whales have been entangled in such fishing lines at least once during their lifetime. Commercial ships and recreational boats passing through critical whale habitat also put these whales at an increased risk of fatal collisions.
Alarmingly, the 336 animals now estimated is the lowest number in 20 years. In 2011, there were an estimated 481 whales, the highest population size since post-whaling times. Since then, the population has been decimated by 30%. 18 right whale calves were recorded in 2021, which is a promising figure. Unfortunately, five deaths have already been documented and only 36% of deaths are thought to be detected.
Despite these setbacks and heartbreaking numbers, IFAW continues to fight for the North Atlantic right whale. We're tackling the crisis from all angles by collaborating with other scientists, local fishermen, consumers, and policy makers in both Canada and the United States. Hope is not lost yet, but we are in dire need of urgent action.