New Analytical Tool Suggests Drastic Action Is Needed To Save Right Whales

Courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

BOSTON – NOAA Fisheries recently unveiled a comprehensive population viability analysis for endangered right whales, a tool that indicates vessel strikes and fishing line entanglements need to be drastically reduced to save the species from man-related threats.

The analysis was developed through the Fisheries’ North Atlantic Right Whale Implementation Teams as part of its recovery plan issued by scientists collaborating in the US and Canada from NOAA and other groups such as the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium and the Oceans Initiative.

“This tool does not estimate or predict actual risk reduction likely for a prescribed management measure such as weak links or reduced vessel speeds,” said Daniel Linden, research statistician for NOAA Fisheries and co-author of the study.

“Instead,” he said, “it helps those making decisions and recommendations understand how the North Atlantic right whale population is likely to respond over time if deaths and injuries from various threats are reduced by target amounts.”

Scientists estimate there are fewer than 350 individual right whales remaining, with less than 70 breeding females.

Should the population of breeding females fall below 50, the population may experience a “quasi-extinction” in which inbreeding, mate scarcity, and sensitivity to outside factors would prevent their population from sustaining itself and doom them before their final members are deceased.

Results gathered using the tool indicate that reducing entanglement or vessel strike risks by a quarter reduced the probability of quasi-extinction to 71 and 85 percent, respectively, while reducing both by the same amount results in a 53 percent probability.

NOAA has released a “Road to Recovery,” outlining its action plan to protect the species, which has been experiencing an unusual mortality event spurred by human activity since 2017.

To view the recovery plan, click here.

By, Matthew Tomlinson, NewsCenter

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