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Fact File: The Most Endangered Whale Species

3 Mar 2014

The North Atlantic right whales were one of the most intensely hunted whale species in the 13-17th centuries. This species was especially favoured by whalers since its high blubber content allowed them to stay afloat on the surface after they were killed. Hence the name “right”. Today, due to the intense anthropogenic pressure, there are only a few hundred individuals left in the Atlantic Ocean.


Besides the North Atlantic right whale, two more right whale species can be found in the world’s ocean: the North Pacific right whale (E. japonica) and the southern right whale (E. australis). As the name implies, these species can be found in the Pacific Ocean and Southern Ocean, respectively. Their main diet is composed of copepods, krills and pteropods, and they feed by filtering the water through their baleens. Since they were intensely hunted in the past, there is no exact knowledge about their lifespan, but it is estimated that right whales can live up to 50-70 years.


These majestic marine mammals are easily recognized by their rough patches, which appear due to whale lice (These are crustaceans that feed off the algae settled on the whale’s body). As these patches cluster in different shapes, it can be used by researchers to distinguish individuals.


North Atlantic right whale species are especially threatened by human related activity. Since they tend to stay close to the coastline, they can become the victim of marine debris ingestion, ship strike and fishing line entanglement. Most recently, a 4-year-old North Atlantic right whale was found off the coast of Georgia with an 80 meters long commercial fishing line in its mouth. In connection with this, scientists highlighted the fact that such accidents could be prevented by changing the colour of the fishing gear. Right whales are more adapted to low light in the ocean and more sensitive to certain colours. As the colour of their diet is orange/red, they are more sensitive to these colours, and may be able to easily differentiate objects in that spectrum. By using red fishing gears, the number of entanglements could be reduced preventing further population decline.


By Wanda Bodnar 




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