Death of a species
The discovery of yet another dead endangered North Atlantic right whale off Virginia brings the loss to a total of 18 dead since April, a devastating blow to the species during a year when only five calves were born.
While 12 of the deaths occurred in Canadian waters between June and September, this latest mortality is the fifth known to occur in US waters off the coast of Cape Cod.
Recently published research confirms that the species has been in decline since 2010 as a result of human impacts. With fewer than 450 remaining, researchers estimate certain extinction within 23 years unless threats to the species are drastically reduced.
Right whales were once driven to near extinction due to commercial whaling and now once again face extinction as a result of vessel strikes and entanglements in fishing gear.
Ironically, human impacts on North Atlantic right whales ultimately impact our own survival as research indicates that whales play a significant role in global ecosystems. Whales transport nutrients to surface waters where they sustain phytoplankton, a tiny floating ocean plant. Phytoplankton provide up to half the earth’s oxygen, sequesters carbon thereby fighting climate change, and sustains fish stocks.
According to Regina Asmutis-Silvia, WDC-NA executive director, “It’s pretty clear that if we do nothing we have condemned a species, on which we depend, to extinction… ultimately dooming our own existence.”
What WDC is doing:
- WDC and its conservation partners are seeking action by the governments of the US and Canada to fulfil their obligations under the US Endangered Species Act and the Canadian Species At Risk Act.
- As a federally appointed member of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, WDC is continuing its collaborative work to devise measures that reduce the risk of entanglements.
- And in response to the recent deaths of right whales in Canada, WDC has formally requested that the MSC certification of the Canadian snow crab fishery be withdrawn until the fishery operates in a way that does not jeopardize the continued survival of right whales.
Since its incorporation in 2005, WDC’s North American office has implemented a program specifically dedicated to the continued survival of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, a project which the Patagonia Outdoor Clothing and Gear company has helped to support since 2010.