Right Whale is the common name of three separate species of baleen whales, named such for their use of baleen plates instead of teeth to get lunch like krill and plankton. The way they are divided into separate species is that they are each named after the body of water that they inhabit (the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and Southern Oceans) and they each grow to about 60 feet. Of this trio, the Northern Atlantic Right Whale is considered the rarest with its population variously estimated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to be no higher than 500 which makes the recent news of six deceased Right Whales that much more alarming. The species once numbered in the tens of thousands before whaling operations nearly exterminated them, and many other baleen whale species including the bowhead, fin, and blue whale.

Since the ban on commercial whaling in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission populations have been recovering but the pace has been slow due to the fact that large animals in general, especially the largest extant animals on the planet, breed very slowly. What makes this particular story more disturbing is that all six whales died within a short time frame (the first death was reported on June 6, and five were reported from June 19 to June 23) and in the same general area, the Gulf of St. Lawrence which is within the territorial waters of Canada, and none of the causes of death were immediately evident. Due to this of Canada has spearheaded an effort to figure out why the whales died so corrective action may be pursued. One problem is that the causes could either all be separate or linked. If it is a common problem that caused the whales to die like noise or water quality (both have been found to impact other cetacean populations in the Gulf), or boats striking them then the correction may be much simpler. If all the whales died for different reasons, however, and there is nothing beyond hand-wringing by scientists that can be done about climate change then maybe the Northern Right Whale’s time has come for extinction.

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