The history of the North Atlantic right whale is a harrowing one. For thousands of years, whales have held cultural and nutritional significance for indigenous people on the Atlantic coastlines. However, these whales quickly became victims of commercial for-profit whaling by several different countries. These mysterious creatures earned their name because they were known as the “right” whale to hunt. They are slow moving, float when killed, and contain enough oil and baleen to make a whaler rich. This practice was banned in 1935, but the right whale populations have not recovered. Today, it is estimated that there are only around 400 individuals left in existence. This year, seven new baby calves spotted along the Atlantic coastline have provided a beacon of hope for the future of the species.
Earlier this year, the National Resource Defense Council reported on the seven calves found near Florida and Georgia between January and February 2019. So far, three of these calves have been spotted off of the New England coast, meaning that they have made it through the spring migration and can now spend the rest of the summer in the North. The article explains that this event was so exciting for environmentalists because “no calves were born during the previous calving season and at least 20 whales have been killed in the last two years.”
If whaling has been banned for over 80 years, then why are the population numbers still so low? Unfortunately, the threat of hunting has been replaced by other environmental pressures. One of the most commonly seen causes of death of right whales is entanglement in commercial fishing nets and other plastics. Other major issues, like pollution, are degrading the whales’ habitats and reducing the amount of prey available for them to eat.
Right whales are still endangered, but the aforementioned calves spark hope that the right whale can thrive in the future if these threats continue to be regulated and environmental conditions improve. Scientists are hard at work developing new fishing gear that can prevent entanglement or allow whales to break free if they are accidently caught. Other technologies are in the works that will alert boats of nearby whales so that they can slow down or avoid the area. You can help right whales too by reducing consumption of single-use plastics, choosing sustainable seafood, and simply sharing your knowledge of ocean conservation with others.
What steps might you take to help protect ocean life?
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