Things have been looking really bad for North Atlantic right whales, and they’re only getting worse. Scientists tracking the animals off the East Coast of the U.S. have not recorded the birth of a single new calf this year, the Guardian reports. Paired with last year’s record number of deaths, their extinction is imminent unless humans intervene to save them. Let’s not hold our breaths.
Humans, obviously, are responsible for the destruction of the right whale populations in the first place: Entanglement in fishing nets, ship strikes and a decrease in available food thanks to warming oceans have plunged the whales’ numbers to their current levels, with researchers estimating that only 430 remain in the world—only 100 of which are breeding females.
“At the rate we are killing them off, this 100 females will be gone in 20 years,” Mark Baumgartner, a marine ecologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, told the Guardian. He predicts that absent intervention, the whales will be “functionally extinct” by 2040.
Though it’s unlikely we’ll be able (or willing) to stop the waters from getting hotter, one straightforward means of reviving the whales’ populations is by restricting fishing with certain types of gear in regions where the whales are often found. So far, those restrictions are voluntary, but simple adjustments, like modifying rope to break when something large (like a whale) hits would dramatically reduce deaths. As for ship strikes, ships can move their lanes to mitigate the likelihood of a collision, or simply slow down. Like gear modifications, speed reduction remains voluntary. Maybe it shouldn’t be! Doesn’t this seem worth it?