Athough the the northern right whale (Eubalena glacialis) has remained the most endangered of all the world’s whale species, we removed it from our Top 10 Endangered Species list a few years back as the result of some good news about its population numbers. Because of effective conservation regulations, the number of individual right whales that travel the Atlantic coasts of Canada and the US had rebounded from an all-time low of 350 to at least 450 by the middle of the 21st century’s second decade.

However, the tide of good news for the species now seems to have reversed, due, apparently, to global climate change. Warming ocean waters, particularly in the Gulf of Maine where the whales often feed, have caused krill—the tiny, shrimp-like creatures on which right whales feed—to disperse and become more difficult for the whales to find. As a result, right whale reproduction has fallen to an alarmingly low level, deaths due to all causes have increased, with 16 of the huge cetaceans found dead in 2017 alone, and researchers are finding evidence of increased levels of stress in the animals. So alarming is the situation that we’ve decided to put the northern right whale right back at the top of our List.

The right whale got its name because 19th century whalers considered it the “right” whale to kill, as it not only was full of valuable whale oil, but it floated after it was dead, which made it easy to handle and process. As a result, it was driven to near extinction. Though now protected by law, right whales continue to suffer losses due to due to ship strikes, entanglements in commercial fishing gear that often cause them to drown—and now, increasingly, and as a result global climate change, to the scarcity of the tiny crustaceans on which they feed.

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