A new study shows that many of the world’s marine mammals are at crossroads – some are on the brink of extinction, while others are on the road to recovery.
A team from the University of Exeter examined the status of 126 species, including whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, manatees, dugongs, sea otters and polar bears, and found that at least 25 percent are classified as endangered.
The analysis found that the near-extinct vaquita porpoise and the critically endangered northern right whale are among the most endangered.
The published article also notes that 98 percent of all marine mammals in 56 percent of the ocean are at some risk.
After this detailed assessment, researchers determined that the shocking declines are the result of climate change, fishing, pollution and other forms of human activity.
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At least 25 percent (dark green) of the 126 marine mammal species are on the path of extinction. The red areas of the map indicate where the most endangered mammals reside
The international research team led by the University of Exeter highlights conservation measures and research techniques that can protect marine mammals in the future.
Dr. Sarah Nelms, of the Center for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, said: ‘We have reached a critical point in terms of marine mammal conservation.
In modern times, few marine mammal species are threatened with extinction, but human activities are putting many of them under increasing pressure.
“Our paper examines a range of conservation measures – including marine protected areas (MPAs), methods for reducing bycatch and community involvement – and also highlights some of the species that need urgent attention.”
The published article also notes that 98 percent of all marine mammals in 56 percent of the ocean are at some risk. The analysis showed that the near-extinct vaquita porpoise (photo) is one of the most endangered species
While the study identified 25 percent of species in danger of extinction, it also notes that 98 percent of marine mammals are at some risk in 56 percent of the ocean, mainly in coastal waters.
The paper, published in the magazines Research on endangered species, describes what causes these animals to disappear.
Climate change, for example, is a threat to marine mammals that depend on specific habitats for survival, such as polar bears and walruses that rely on sea ice.
The Arctic, where those animals live, is warming about twice as fast as the global average, melting away the ice on which they depend.
And a separate study published in 2020 warns that polar bears could be wiped out as early as this year because of their declining habitat.
Accidental bycatch has also become a major problem worldwide.
“ Bycatch of marine mammals, i.e. the incidental capture or entanglement of animals in active gear, is a critical but seemingly persistent problem, and currently represents the threat affecting the greatest number of marine mammal species worldwide (101 recorded species, but probably more), reads the study.
After this detailed assessment, researchers determined that the shocking declines are the result of climate change, fishing, pollution and other forms of human activity. The North Atlantic whale (pictured) is one of those most at risk
“Several species of cetaceans (eg Vaquita and North Atlantic whale Eubalaena glacialis) and pinnipeds (eg Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus) are in danger of extinction, in part due to bycatch from fisheries.”
The next culprit driving the extinction is pollution, which includes not only plastic and chemicals, but noise as well.
“Anthropogenic underwater noise is recognized as a pervasive pollutant affecting marine mammals worldwide,” researchers wrote.
Noise pollution, depending on the impact range, traumatizes behavioral responses and causes stress, which can lead to animals self-injuring.
It can also overshadow environmentally relevant sounds such as communication.
The study also found that at least 42 percent of marine mammal species digest or become entangled in discarded plastic floating in the ocean.
The researchers say 21 percent of marine mammals are on the IUCN Red List as ‘data deficient’ – meaning not enough is known to assess their conservation status.
This lack of knowledge makes it difficult to determine what types of protection need and what actions should be taken to save them.
The scientists suggest that using technology to track down endangered animals could help them survive. Satellite telemetry devices deployed on gray seals in the southern North Sea, for example, record and transmit data on their location, diving activity and hauling behavior, which can be used to answer a range of questions relevant to conservation management.
The use of such technology and conservation methods have proven successful as ways to help some species recover from population losses. Monk seals (pictured), for example, have a long history of overhunting, but those living in Hawaii managed to increase the population from 2013 to 2015.
Professor Brendan Godley, who heads the Exeter Marine research group, said: “ To continue conservation successes and reverse the downward trend of high-risk species, we need to identify the threats they face and the conservation measures that can help , to understand.
‘Technology such as drone and satellite images, electronic tags and molecular techniques are among the tools that help us with this.
“In addition, sharing best practices will empower us – which is why we are so proud to be part of such a large and international group for this project.”
The use of such technology and conservation methods have proven successful as ways to help some species recover from population losses.
Monk seals, for example, have a long history of overhunting, but those living in Hawaii managed to increase the population from 2013 to 2015.
Researchers claim Earth is experiencing a ‘man-made’ sixth mass extinction with the ‘biological destruction’ of wildlife
The world has experienced five mass extinctions throughout its history, and experts argue that we’re seeing another one happening right now.
A 2017 research paper claimed that a ‘biological destruction’ of wildlife in the past few decades has triggered the sixth mass extinction and says the planet is headed for a ‘global crisis’.
Scientists warn that the gluttonous consumption and wanton destruction of mankind is the cause of the event, the first major extinction since the dinosaurs.
Two types of vertebrates, backbone animals, have become extinct on average every year for the past century.
Currently, about 41 percent of amphibian species and more than a quarter of mammals are threatened with extinction.
There are an estimated 8.7 million plant and animal species on our planet, and about 86 percent of terrestrial and 91 percent of marine animals have not yet been discovered.
Of those we do know, 1,204 mammals, 1,469 birds, 1,215 reptiles, 2,100 amphibians, and 2,386 fish species are considered endangered.
1,414 insects, 2,187 mollusks, 732 crustaceans, 237 corals, 12,505 plants, 33 mushrooms and six brown algae species are also threatened.
More than 25,000 species out of 91,523 assessed for the 2017 Red List update were classified as endangered.
The number of invertebrates at risk has also peaked.
Scientists predict that insects could become extinct within 100 years as a result of a crippling population decline.
The beginning of the mass extinction coincides with the beginning of the Anthropocene – the geological age determined by human activity as the dominant influence on the climate and the environment.