Scientists are worried that there was no breeding during the North Atlantic right whales breeding season.
According to The Guardian, the whale species’ population has been quickly declining, and this year scientists recorded no sightings of new mother calf pairings among the small group of closely-monitored North Atlantic right whales left.
After this barren breeding season, experts now believe that the whale species will go extinct in the next 20 years without human intervention. The whales, found mostly along the eastern coast of the United States, have dropped in numbers due to fatal entanglements with lobster fishing ropes and a decline in food due to warmer waters.
Scientists say 2017 had a record number of North Atlantic right whale deaths, leaving the surviving population around 430, with only an estimated 100 of those whales being fertile 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. This would leave North Atlantic right whales essentially extinct by 2040.
One North Atlantic right whale has already died prematurely in 2018, washing up on a Virginia beach after becoming tangled in fishing gear. Baumgartner believes the increased strength of fishing line and the ropes used for catching crabs and lobsters has increased the number of whale deaths. Due to these changes, he posits, whales are no longer able to break free from the lines and ropes when they become tangled. Those that do break free are often injured, causing them to slowly starve.
Baumgartner hopes these shocking new numbers and the unsuccessful breeding season for North Atlantic right whales causes the government to regulate fishing gear, allowing the fisherman to work in ways that would harm less whales.
“Lobster and crab fishing and whales are able to comfortably co-exist,” Baumgartner said. “We are trying to propose solutions, it’s urgent.”