BOSTON -- After years of deadly interactions with humans, the North American right whale has been reclassified as “critically endangered,” the most serious designation for any animal that still exists in the wild. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which since 1964 has tracked and categorized animals’ risks of global extinction on its Red List of Threatened Species, upgraded the right whale’s status on Wednesday.
Right now, the wild population of right whales hovers in the low 400s, and that number is sinking. Statistics show that ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements injure or kill many right whales each year. Between the years of 2017 and 2019 alone, 30 right whales died -- many from entanglements or vessel strikes. That’s an existential threat at a time when scientists say that the right whale population can sustain less than one human-caused death per year.
In response, Michaela Morris, Environment America Research & Policy Center’s oceans campaign fellow, issued the following statement:
“Just last week, we were again reminded of the vulnerability of the amazing right whales when we learned that a six-month old calf had suffered fatal wounds after it collided with a ship. Every whale we lose brings this species one step closer to extinction. The IUCN’s decision makes the world more aware of the extraordinary risk these whales face and should be a call to action for us to do more to protect them.
"Our right whales embody the beauty, majesty and wonder our natural world holds. By standing up to protect right whales, we not only keep this iconic species safe and keep our marine ecosystem intact, but we take steps toward forging a culture that actively values the natural world.”