The North Atlantic Right Whale has been moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered on the recently updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Sadly, the revised classification comes after fewer than only 250 North Atlantic Right Whales were estimated to be alive at the end of 2018, the total population having declined by approximately 15% since 2011.
This decline is being driven by a combination of increased mortality due to entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes, and a lower reproduction rate compared to previous years. Of the 30 confirmed human-caused deaths or serious injuries of North Atlantic Right Whales between 2012 and 2016, 26 were due to entanglement.
“The dramatic declines of species such as the North Atlantic Right Whale included in the IUCN Red List update highlight the gravity of the extinction crisis,” said Dr. Jane Smart, Global Director of the IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group in a statement.
“Saving the fast-growing number of threatened species from extinction requires transformational change, supported by action to implement national and international agreements. The world needs to act fast to halt species’ population declines and prevent human-driven extinctions, with an ambitious post-2020 biodiversity framework which the upcoming IUCN Congress will help define,” continued Dr. Smart.
Climate change also appears to be exacerbating the threats to North Atlantic Right Whales. Warmer sea temperatures have likely pushed their main prey species further north during summer, into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the whales are more exposed to accidental encounters with ships and also at high risk of entanglement in crab-pot ropes.
As of last week, the IUCN Red List has surpassed 120,000 species, with 120,372 now assessed. Of these, 32,441 are threatened with extinction
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