Endangered right whale population threatened by entanglements & declining birth rate

From New England Aquarium:

BOSTON (Aug. 31, 2016) -The most endangered large whale species in the Atlantic is threatened by increasing rates of lethal and debilitating entanglements and a dramatic 40% decline in birth rates since 2010. About 500 North Atlantic right whales still survive after two decades period of modest annual growth, but the two new emerging trends are casting doubt on the species overall recovery.

That is the conclusion of a new study published in “Frontiers in Marine Science” by Dr. Scott D. Kraus, Vice President and Senior Adviser, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, along with researchers from the University of Rhode Island, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, University of North Carolina, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Duke University.

“Right whales need immediate and significant management intervention to reduce mortalities and injuries from fishing gear,” the authors concluded in the study. “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.”

Since 1935, when North Atlantic right whales neared extinction and whaling for this species became illegal, right whales rebounded to about 295 living whales in 1992. The number of whales then increased by about 2.8 percent a year, to an estimated 500 right whales in 2010.

But, the numbers of calves born each year dropped dramatically in the following five years. “Why? We have a couple of strong suspicions, but nothing confirmed.” Dr. Kraus said. Some data suggest that in addition to the direct mortality cause by entanglements, non-lethal entanglement episodes are having long-term physical and reproductive health effects on right whales. Other information shows that prey species …

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