WHAT IS THE RIGHT WHALE’S POPULATION?
The Northern right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is the rarest of all large whale species, as well as one of the rarest of all marine mammals. What is the right whales population? It currently stands at between 300 and 350 individuals.
Once numbering in the tens of thousands, the Northern right whale was hunted to near-extinction during the 19th and early 20th centuries by whalers who prized the animal for the abundance of whale oil it produced, as well as for the fact that if floated after it was killed, making it easy to harvest. (The name “right” whale came about because whalers considered it the right whale to kill.) By 1935, when right-whale hunting was banned, the population had been reduced to approximately 100 individuals.
Although hunting is no longer a factor and the right whale’s population has more than tripled in the three-quarters of a century since the 1935 low point, the species still faces serious survival challenges. Chief among the hazards to right whales are ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear. More than four-fifths of all adult right whales bear scars from being struck by ship propellors or hulls.
In recent years, conservationists carefully monitoring right whales from the air have had significant success in directing shipping traffic away from areas where the whales are gathering. The problem of fishing-gear entanglements has proved more difficult to solve, however, and it remains unclear whether right whales are reproducing quickly enough to replace the individuals killed during encounters with man-made hazards.
With such uncertainty about reproduction versus mortality, scientists currently cannot accurately predict whether the right whales population with continue to increase or decline over the coming decades.