Government officials state that the endangered right whales could easily become extinct in as little as a year unless efforts to save them are increased.
North Atlantic right whales are some of the rarest marine mammals on the planet, and they have not had a good year, ABC News reports. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said that there are only an estimated 450 of the whales left in the world, and 17 of them have already died in 2017.
John Bullard, the Northeast Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said that the whales’ situation is so bad that American and Canadian lawmakers need to consider the possibility that the current population will die out without prompt action. This year of high mortality among the right whales has been complicated by poor reproduction rates. There are only around 100 breeding North Atlantic right whales left.
You do have to use the extinction word, because that’s where the trend lines say they are. That’s something we can’t let happen.
Bullard and other officials from the NOAA made the statements at a meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council. Mark Murray-Brown, an Endangered Species Act consultant for NOAA, observed that the whales have been declining in number since 2010. Females are being hit harder than males.
Murray-Brown said that both countries must work to reduce whale deaths caused by human activities. Entanglement in fishing equipment and marine vessel hits are two of the most frequently cited sources of right whale deaths.
“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,” Murray-Brown said.
The giant mammals give birth in warmer southern waters then head to New England and Canada in the summer and spring to feed. Various studies on why whale deaths have gone up cite several possible reasons, such as whales searching outside of protected areas for food or entanglement in fishing gear that causes them stress.
Elizabeth Burgess, an associate scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium in Boston, said, “My colleagues are trying to find solutions so we can find out how they can continue to fish, but not entangle whales.”