World's Smallest Whale Population Drops to 30 Individuals
The elusive North Pacific right whale may be too depleted to save. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
As the world continues to struggle over a plan to control—if not stop—commercial whaling, one of the industry's victims struggles for survival.
The North Pacific right whale—once numbering in the tens of thousands—was nearly driven to extinction by whaling and poaching. Now, it is likely the most endangered species of whale in the world—a species that it may be too late to save.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
In a recent study published in the British Royal Society's Biology Letters, researchers wrote:
Its precarious status today...is a direct consequence of uncontrolled and illegal whaling, and highlights the past failure of international management to prevent such abuse.
Most of the population was depleted during the 19th century, with as many as 30,000 right whales slaughtered in the 1840s alone. Though a ban was placed on whaling in the region, poaching by the Soviet Union in the 1960s reduced the number of Eubalaena japonica even further.
Now, the population in the Gulf of Alaska is well under 50—and as low as 30—individuals. More alarming, researchers noted, was that there are only eight females in the group.
This recent survey fell well below the IUCN's "threshold of likely viability as a species."
Meanwhile, in the Western Bearing Sea, a genetically distinct group of North Pacific right whales numbers in the hundreds, but the IUCN still considers them "critically endangered."
Though no longer threatened by hunting, these whales now face the danger of ship strikes. Researchers commented that the "probability of ship-strike mortalities may increase with the likely future opening of an ice-free Northwest Passage."