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New report suggests right whale population continues to dwindle

Right-whale-Catalog-3560 Snow-Cone-calf Fernandina Beach-Jan-2022-750x500.png
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
via NOAA
The North Atlantic right whale Snow Cone and a calf sighted off Fernandina Beach, Florida on Jan. 6, 2022.

As right whale researchers prepare for their annual meeting this week, they've released a report on right whale numbers. The report issued Monday shows the population is continuing to decline.

The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium estimates that as of last year only 340 North Atlantic right whales remained. This represents a continued population decline, though the rate of decline appears to have slowed recently.

Right whales are vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear, and strikes from boats. The researchers report that five whales have been entangled this year and seen with fishing gear attached, and five others have interacted with fishing gear. At least one was hit by a boat.

The research team hasn't seen any dead right whales in 2022, but Philip Hamilton, senior scientist at the New England Aquarium, says most right whale deaths are never observed. And Hamilton says the whales are suffering in other ways.

"They have sub-lethal injuries that are impacting their ability to reproduce," Hamilton says, "and climate change has really been wreaking havoc on them."

The researchers will meet in New Bedford on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then draft an annual report on right whale research and management.

Murray Carpenter is Maine Public’s climate reporter, covering climate change and other environmental news.