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FSU scientist warns North Atlantic right whale facing extinction

TALLAHASSEE, FL-The North Atlantic right whale's future looks grim if the current mortality rates continue, according to Florida State University assistant professor of oceanography Douglas Nowacek and a group of fellow scientists from across the nation.

They have co-authored a paper titled "North Atlantic Right Whales in Crisis" that appears in the July 22 edition of the journal Science.

In it, Nowacek and his colleagues contend that while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service has been charged with reducing the number of North Atlantic right whales killed by human activity, the government simply isn't doing enough to protect the North Atlantic right whale and its habitats. At least 50 percent of all recorded deaths are due to collisions with ships and entanglements in fishing gear.

"This is in our power to control," said Nowacek. "The Endangered Species Act has a clear mandate to stop extinctions. For this whale, it is time to enforce that mandate."

Right whales range in the coastal waters of eastern North America from the Canadian Maritimes to Florida, regions heavily used by the military and by fishing and shipping industries. Despite international protections since 1935, it remains one of the most endangered whales in the world after 1000 years of whaling brought it close to extinction in the early 20th century.

Data compiled by Nowacek and his co-principal investigators documents an unprecedented eight whale deaths during the past 16 months -- almost three times the average annual rate in 25 years of study of the species -- including six adult females, three of which carried near-term fetuses. At least four of the whales were killed by human activities; ships hit three; and one whale was entangled in fishing gear. Only 17 percent of all mortality is detected, so reports of dead whales represent only a small fraction of actual deaths.


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22-Jul-2005


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