Right whales have been long observed by marine biologists, who thought that their population was on the rise. However, a recent study shows that they were wrong, as the sea mammals are threatened by human activity in their natural habitat.
In the early 1930s, hunting for whales became illegal, as the populations had extremely few members (approximately three hundred). In the years to follow, they had the opportunity to regain balance. More recent studies showed that the number has increased throughout the years, the right whale population reaching five hundred members in 2010.
On the other hand, the new research published in Frontiers in Marine Science reveals significant details. Scientists observed that the birth rates with right whales dropped by 40% in the last six years. The author of the study is researcher Scott Kraus.
The situation of the whales can be explained by human action. People who use massive fishing gear often hurt the whales because they get entangled in the giant nets. Researchers say that the animals are affected even after they manage to get away from fishing boats. They drag nets and pieces of equipment behind them, which makes them advance more slowly than usual and have difficulty when swimming and trying to find food.
Considering right whale deaths which could be analyzed by specialists, forty-four percent of them were caused by ship strikes, and thirty-five percent were caused by entanglements in fishing gear. However, after 2010, the statistics look different, as only a small percent of the deaths was caused by the collision with ships, whereas most of them (up to eighty-five percent) were due to entanglements.
People who study whales know that it can take the animals even years to get rid of pieces of equipment coming from entanglements.
Some of the entangled whales are quickly tracked by scientists, and if they are close to the shore, they can intervene and help the animals. Such a rescue mission can last for hours, but then the animal is free to go. The same happens with other marine creatures, and people who spot animals in distress must announce authorities immediately.
Right whales are among the most threatened whale species. They were in danger in the whaling period, as well. They are actually called “right” because it was very easy for hunters to catch them. Right whales are slow creatures, they are not scared of ships, and are not aggressive. When they die, they float at the surface of the water, which made it easy for hunters to claim their prey.
Image courtesy of: Wikipedia