It's time to take right whales' threats of extinction seriously, according to officials with the federal government. These endangered North Atlantic right whales could face full extinction unless new steps are taken to protect them.
Endangered Right Whales Facing Extinction
This species of whale is among the most endangered in the entire world, and they could be wiped out if their population isn't recovered soon, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.
The prediction comes a year after low reproduction levels and high mortality rates for the whales, announced NOAA officials during a meeting Tuesday, Dec. 5, as the Associated Press reports. NOAA estimates that there are only 450 of these whale species left in the entire world after 17 were found dead this year.
The situation has become so appalling that U.S. and Canadian regulators need to consider that right whale population won't recover without significant efforts soon, according to John Bullard, NOAA Fisheries's northeast regional administrator.
"You do have to use the extinction word, because that's where the trend lines say they are," said Bullard. "That's something we can't let happen."
Right Whales Population Diminishing
Right whales have been in decline since 2010, according to Mark Murray-Brown, consultant for the NOAA. Two of the most frequent causes of death for these endangered whales involve humans, as these whales often get killed by being hit with vessel strikes or being entangled in fishing gear.
In 2017, all right whale deaths occurred in New England in Canada. Right whales give birth in Southern waters then head to both these places to feed every spring and summer.
There are only about 100 breeding female right whales in the species, which makes threats of extinction more alarming. What's more, entrapment in fishing gear stresses the male right whales, affecting their ability to reproduce, according to a study published in Endangered Species Research.
Why do right whales get killed so often? Well, one theory posits that whales move around so much and go outside protected areas in search of food, which puts them in danger. This will likely worsen as "as water temperatures continue to rise, forcing movements towards both favorable oceanographic conditions and food sources elsewhere," according to the study.
Federal law currently requires that vessels must be 1,500 feet away from right whales, and those that are 65 feet or longer must slow to 10 knots or even lesser in certain areas along the East Coast during calving or nursing season.
More right whales are killed each year than born, said Christin Khan, a fisheries biologist for the NOAA, in November.
"If we don't reverse this trend soon, they could go extinct within our lifetime."