The International Union for Conservation of Nature announced Thursday that North Atlantic right whales are now on its list of critically endangered species, a step away from being extinct in the wild.
The whales spend part of their lives off Georgia’s coast, giving birth and raising their calves here in the fall and winter.
There are about 400 surviving whales, and in the past few years, more have died than have been born. Since 2017, 31 have been found dead – many killed by ships or by fishing gear – and another 10 have been seen with serious injuries.
Peter Corkeron, a senior scientist at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium who was part of the IUCN’s review team on the species, said humans are responsible for the whales’ decline.
“North Atlantic right whales are in really poor condition as individuals — they’re too skinny. They’re not having babies often enough,” he said. “But the big issue is that they’re dying.”
Researchers spotted 10 calves this past fall and winter off the coast of Georgia and Florida. One of them had been seriously injured by a ship and hasn’t been seen again for months. Another was recently found dead off the coast of New Jersey; it had been hit at least twice by ships.