August 2018 Archives

The Uncertain Future of Right Whales

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The first time I saw a right whale surface, her broad shoulders and snout surged up through the foaming water looking like a gigantic hippopotamus. Aside from her immense size, it was hard to believe this was a whale. Then the enormous, lumbering filter feeder opened her permanently frowning maw, which was almost as long as our boat, and chugged slowly away, sieving water through her baleen, and leaving a burbling, foamy wake. 

I was lucky. Sightings like this are becoming rarer as the number of North Atlantic right whales declines, and their whereabouts are becoming ever more mysterious, especially off the shores of Maine. 

Just after the turn of this last millennium, scientists described the North Atlantic right whale as a species at a crossroads. There were only about 300 left in the world, and some experts laid out possible timelines for extinction. Two prominent right whale scientists, Scott Kraus and Rosalind Rolland, wrote, "Human decisions over the next few decades will decide the survival or extinction of the species."

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A young right whale breaches in the Bay of Fundy in 2012. Photo courtesy Anderson Cabot Center, New England Aquarium.

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