The math for 2017 is pretty clear: fourteen North Atlantic right whales are known to have died, while only five new babies were sighted. It's the most dramatic example yet of what scientists have been saying for a few years, and what a new analysis makes official: these highly endangered whales are on the decline.
Entanglements and ship strikes are the leading causes of death for North Atlantic right whales, as well as other large whales. The most recent North Atlantic right whale death was a young female who was found severely entangled in snow crab fishing gear.
Peter Corkeran, who leads the large whale research program at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, says mortality rates are higher among female whales. And, even when entanglements aren’t fatal, they can reduce the reproductive capability of females.
In addition to firming up the mathematical evidence for the declining population size, the new analysis also lays to rest some uncertainty about the total number of North Atlantic right whales. As of 2015, there just under 460 North Atlantic right whales. That number is now less than 450, and shrinking.