Scientists are raising a red flag over the future of endangered right whales after a high number died in 2017. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that there are only about 450 North Atlantic right whales left after 17 were reported dead this year, according to Phys.org. And the news of such high mortality was exacerbated by a low number in births in 2017. Per the Guardian, there are only about 100 breeding female whales active in the species, making the fear of extinction all the more real. "You do have to use the extinction word, because that's where the trend lines say they are," says John Bullard, NOAA’s Northeast Regional Administrator. "That's something we can't let happen."
Along with the low number of breeding females, a study published in Endangered Species Research suggests that entrapment in fishing lines spikes stress levels in males, reducing their ability to reproduce. Co-author of the study Elizabeth Burgess says her colleagues are seeking solutions with the fishing community. (NOAA temporarily suspended its rescue operations this summer after a right whale struck and killed the rescuer untangling it from fishing lines.) Collisions with ships is another major cause of right whale death, and a study in Nature reports that the whales are seeking food outside protected areas. The problem will likely worsen, it states, “as water temperatures continue to rise, forcing movements towards both favorable oceanographic conditions and food sources elsewhere.”