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Entanglements hamper reproduction as right whale population slides

05 / 12 / 2017, Mongabaycom News

It’s been a rough year for North Atlantic right whales. Fifteen died in the first 10 months of the year, concerning scientists enough that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared this past summer an “unusual mortality event.” And recently, a team of scientists reported that this year is part of a longer decline over the past several years. Critically, female right whales are struggling to reproduce, the study found. “They’re dying too young, and they’re not having calves often enough,” said ecologist Peter Corkeron of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Center in Woods Hole, Mass., at the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium annual meeting in Nova Scotia in October. Corkeron is one of the paper’s authors. Right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) skim feeding, with baleen clearly visible. Photo by NOAA Fisheries/Elizabeth Josephson, NEFSC. Marine mammal scientists have long identified the two main threats to the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), an IUCN-listed Endangered species: getting hit by massive cargo ships, and getting snared in the ubiquitous fishing gear found off the eastern coast of Canada and the United States. Prior to those issues, the species had been decimated by centuries of hunting; as slow-moving whales that bobbed to the surface once dispatched, they were the “right” whales to kill, and by 1990 the population had dropped to just 270 animals. Twenty years of research and strategies to keep more whales alive buoyed the population to 483 in 2010. But the current study, published in the November issue of the journal Ecology and Evolution, confirms what…

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