Casual Observers Might be Wrong: Expert Says Right Whales in danger

Despite public sightings, right whales population continues to decline

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Jasmine Davis, Staff Reporter

In April of this year, many observers noticed Right whales cavorting near Cape Cod, but Charles Mayo claims their frolicking about does not tell all.

Mayo, director of Right whale ecology (at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts) was interviewed by the Associated Press.  In the interview he says there are “Ominous” signs suggesting that the global population of 500 Right whales is steadily declining- as opposed to the hopes of a year ago.

Scientists a year ago had hoped the population of Right whales would begin to increase but sadly that has not been the case. The interview with Mayo focused on how these ocean giants are fairing.

When asked if the whale spotting brought him joy he shockingly answered with “not entirely” claiming that this year’s birthrate was incredibly low, with only four known calves.

Mayo clarified by stating that there have been at least four known deaths, which does not include the bodies of whale carcasses that we have yet to find.

He claims the most troubling part about the rising mortality rate is how we cannot control the human causes which are things such as ship strikes and entanglements and that we are really unsure why the calf rate is so low.

Since these are rare sights to see, the fact that about 40% of the estimated population is being seen is bittersweet news. Yes we want to see them, but with habitats stretching all the way to Spain, why now?

From the NOAA.gov website.

This shift in time and location shows us that they are feeding closer and sooner than the normal. Mayo thinks this means their usual feeding grounds are failing and the radical changes are spiking worry.

The biggest threat posed to these whales as of now is entanglement. 80% of Right whales bear the scars left by nets and rope. Even though they are baleen feeders, not in direct competition with humans for fish, there is apparently a lot of lost or broken fishing gear posing  a large problem for these whales. As we speak, odds are a right whale is tugging a net along.

When a whale gets entangled, many will manage to free themselves but not all are quite so lucky. Some drag gear for months, even years. And with females this can even lead to decreased ability to reproduce.

Freeing entangled whales may help with the low calf rate yes, but we cannot get to every single animal.  Not only do you have to spot the elusive beasts first, but Mayo claims they are “one of the most ornery animals” he has ever met.

Mayo explained that even the gentlest looking creatures get aggressive when faced with panic in a life or death moment. The whales become difficult to free, as they are scared and just want to get out.

As a whole, the public tends to get lulled at the sight of these magnificent giants. We think since we see them each year that it is a good sign, but when you look at all the nets and ships and mortality rate, the picture is not so great.