North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. NOAA
After right whales received protection from whaling in 1935, their numbers started a slow increase until the 1980s. Female whales lived 52 years on average and had six chances to bear calves during their lives. But by 1995, whale life spans had plummeted. Researchers projected that female calves born after 1995 would live to age 15 on average, affording them only two chances to breed. Motherhood itself--the heart of any population’s ability to grow--was threatened.
Right whales die from two major causes: collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear. With fewer than 400 remaining, every death is a severe blow to the species’ prospects for survival. But there’s reason for hope, too: studies estimate that saving just two female whales per year would put the right whale back on track to recovery.
More about threats to right whales:
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