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North Atlantic right whales headed toward extinction

ITHACA, N.Y. -- One of the world's most endangered whales, the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis ), is on a path toward extinction due to collisions with ships and entanglements in fishing gear, according to Cornell University whale expert Christopher Clark.

A paper co-authored by Clark in the latest issue of the journal Science (July 22, 2005) urges emergency measures, such as reducing boat speeds, rerouting shipping lanes around the whales' migratory paths and modifying fishing techniques and gear.

Estimates indicate only 350 North Atlantic right whales remain, and deaths are exceeding births by less than 1 percent per year.

"We are not just at a precipice to extinction, in many ways we are actually over that precipice," said Clark, the I.P. Johnson Director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell.

North Atlantic right whales mostly live in heavily trafficked and fished coastal waters off the North American eastern seaboard, from Florida to Canada.

"There is really no place along the east coast of the United States free of humans, and shipping creates a lot of opportunities for whales to get hit," said Clark. "Swimming between ships and lobster pot lines, whales are constantly facing the gauntlets of traffic and snares. It's hard for a big animal like that to get through."

One thousand years of whaling brought the species close to extinction until the early 1900s when hunting bans were introduced. Nobody knows why the whales failed to rebound prior to the 1960s when shipping and fishing increased. Now, human influences have brought further declines in the whale's population.

In the last 16 months, scientists have recorded eight North Atlantic right whale deaths. Ships killed three, and one died after being tangled in fishing gear. Causes for the other deaths are unknown. Six of the dead whales were adult females. Four of these whales were just entering calf-bearing years, while three of th
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Contact: Blaine Friedlander
bpf2@cornell.edu
607-254-8093
Cornell University News Service
27-Jul-2005


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