9. NEAR THREATENED: Narwhal The Narwhal prefers the cold waters of the Arctic, and is found in a limited geographic region from Central Canada to East Russia. Males have a tusk like protrusion which is an extension of a tooth in the upper jaw, earning them the title of the ‘unicorns of the sea’. Global population estimates place narwhal figures at over 80,000. Their natural predators include killer whales, polar bears, and occasionally sharks and walruses while humans hunt them for their skin, tusks, meat and oil. They are prized for their tusk ivory and skin, a delicacy among Inuits. Today they are actively hunted in Canada and Greenland. In the eastern Canadian Arctic, the average reported annual catch was 373 narwhals between 1996 and 2004. Industrial activities and climate change are additional threats that could affect narwhal numbers. The European Union (EU) has established an import ban on tusks since December 2004. Although Denmark belongs to the EU, it is unclear whether the ban on trade in narwhal ivory between Greenland and Denmark is being enforced. The species is listed in Appendix II of CITES and CMS Appendix II.
8. NEAR THREATENED: Beluga Delphinapterus leucas (Img Cred: Wikimedia, Mike Johnston)
8. NEAR THREATENED: Beluga The Beluga or White Whale is found in higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, from Greenland to Svalbard and further east in the Sea of Japan. They prey on fish like salmon and Arctic cod, and also feed on a wide variety of mollusks such as squid and octopus and crustaceans like shrimps and crabs. Polar bears and killer whales are the main predators of belugas throughout their Arctic range. While total numbers worldwide are estimated at above 150,000 animals, there are about 7,900 belugas off the coasts of Greenland and Canada. Belugas are mainly hunted for human consumption, and since they return to the same estauries year after year, they are highly vulnerable to hunting. Their main habitat is the cold Arctic region so climate change is predicted to have an effect on their numbers. The Canada-Greenland Joint Commission on the conservation and management of Narwhal and Beluga recommends catch limits for beluga populations within member countries. Catch levels from sub populations range anywhere from less than ten to a few hundred animals per year. The beluga is listed on Appendix II of CITES.
7. VULNERABLE: Sperm Whale A Sperm whale’s head is one-third of its body size and is filled with a thick waxy fluid, mistaken for sperm by early fishermen. Sperm whales use the fluid for buoyancy while hunters used it to make commercial wax-based products like candles and detergents. They were also targeted for their meat and fat. Research suggests that sperm whale populations were over a million before 1880, but dropped to 360,000 (67percent reduction) by the 1990s. Modern whaling was not the only threat to sperm whales. As sperm whales like to take fish off fishing gear, they get entangled in gill nets and fishing lines. They are also often shot by hostile fishermen. Some studies also suggest that sperm whales are highly sensitive to noise, which can impact their social and reproductive behavior. What adds to their vulnerability is a very low population growth rate of one percent per year, which is not enough to recover depleted populations. The IWC has taken steps towards conservation by setting catch limits at zero, though Japan takes 10 sperm whales annually under the IWC special permit. The sperm whale is on Appendix I of CITES and Appendices I and II of CMS.
6. VULNERABLE: West Indian Manatee Trichechus manatus (Img Cred: Flickr, Keith Ramos)
6. VULNERABLE: West Indian Manatee Atlantic manatees are divided into two main population groups- the Florida manatees and the Antillean manatees. The Florida manatees stick to the warm waters of the Florida peninsula. From March to November, they travel along the Atlantic coast to neighboring states, sometimes as far north as New York. One satellite-tagged manatee was even spotted off of Rhode Island. Based on surveys and estimates, manatee population figures are placed at less than 2500 in each of the two sub species. Since manatee calves depend on their mothers for up to two years after they are born, population figures are highly dependant on survival of adult manatees. Ship strikes account for 25 percent of all manatee deaths. Newer designs allow boats to travel in shallow waters at high speeds, threatening manatees and destroying sea grass beds. The other threats include fishing nets, climate change, exposure to contaminants, ingestion of debris, and crushing (in flood-control structures, in canal locks, or between large ships and docks). To offset these risks, maximum ship speeds have been enforced in areas where manatees live. Manatee protection devices have also been installed at flood gates and water control structures to reduce the chances of crushing manatees in machinery. Florida has established two kinds of protection areas: Manatee sanctuaries- where all waterborne activities are prohibited, and manatee refugee areas- where certain activities are prohibited.
5. VULNERABLE: Hooded Seal The hood in Hooded Seals is a large elastic sac in male seals, which extends from their noses to their foreheads, and can be inflated for mating displays. For management purposes, Atlantic hooded seal populations are divided into two groups- The Greenland Sea and the Northwest Atlantic. Extensive seal hunting in the 19th and 20th centuries is responsible for their Vulnerable status today. ‘Bluebacks’, or juvenile hooded seals younger than 14 months, were highly sought after for their valuable blue- black pelt which they moult at about 16 months. Regulatory measures were imposed in 1964 which led to a decrease in the number of seals hunted, though populations have continued to fall. Hooded seals are often caught accidentally in coastal net fisheries from the United States, from trawl fisheries off Norway and Newfoundland, and salmon drift nets used off Greenland. Competition for food with commercial fisheries and other predators has been suggested as a factor that limits population growth and leads to declines. As they are pack-ice breeding species, oil spills and global warming are suspected to have an influence on their population figures. The Northwest Atlantic population was estimated at 593,500 in 2005 while the Greenland population was estimated at 88,300.
4. ENDANGERED: Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus (Img Cred: Flickr, Chris Buelow)
4. ENDANGERED: Fin Whale The Fin Whale, is a baleen (whalebone for filter-feeding) whale only second in size to the blue whale. It is known to have a flexible diet of fish and krill. They live almost everywhere, but prefer cooler waters. First exploited off the coasts of Norway, Iceland and the British Isles in 1876, they were then targeted off the coasts of Spain, Greenland and Eastern Canada. In the 20th century industrial whaling recorded a catch of over 55,000 fin whales in the North Atlantic, 74,000 in the North Pacific and 725,000 in the southern ocean. The International Whaling Commission’s moratorium of 1986 to set catch limits to zero for all whales was rejected by Norway, Iceland and the Russian Federation. Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2006 and hunted nine fin whales in the same year. A Japanese fleet resumed “experimental” catches of fin whales in the Antarctic in 2005, taking ten whales each during 2005-06 and ten more in 2006-07. Fin whales are also very vulnerable to ship strikes and are occasionally caught in fishing gear. Fin whales are listed on Appendix I of CITES, but Iceland, Norway and Japan, hold reservations against this. They are also listed on Appendices I and II of CMS.
3. ENDANGERED: Blue Whale Balaenoptera musculus (Img Cred: Flickr, Mike Baird)
3. ENDANGERED: Blue Whale With its ability to grow up to 100 feet and weigh up to 150 tons, the Blue Whale is the largest mammal on the planet. They are found in all oceans except the Arctic, and are most abundant in the Antarctic Ocean. Commercial whaling has taken its toll on these mighty mammals, and research suggests that their total population has been decreased by 70-90 percent in the last three generations. Over 30,000 blue whales were caught in 1930 alone. Strong measures have been taken for the protection of blue whales and catch limits for all commercial whaling have been set at zero by the International Whaling Commission since 1986, however Iceland, Norway and the Russian Federation have objected to this provision. No blue whales have been recorded deliberately caught since 1978 though there have been a few reported cases of ship strikes and entanglements. The reward of this action is reflected in their increasing population trend - a rare feature among most endangered marine mammals. Global estimates put the species around 10,000-25,000. The species is on Appendix I of both CITES and the CMS.
2. ENDANGERED: Sei Whale The Sei Whale is often called a ‘cosmopolitan’ species since it migrates between the tropics in winter and temperate and subpolar waters in summer. The Sei Whale is a lean 21 percent blubber, compared with the right whale’s 36-45 percent. After the decline of right whales and blue whales in the 1960s, whalers turned their attention to the Sei. Commercial whaling flourished until the mid 1970s, reducing their populations in oceans around the world. There is little sign of recovery in the north eastern Atlantic where there has been only one sighting from 1995-2005 according to Norwegian surveys. Numbers are more promising in the central Atlantic region, where a 1989 survey reported an estimated 10,300 whales. No such abundance figures exist for the north west Atlantic where the last survey of their population size during 1966–69 was estimated at 2,078. The IUCN has estimated that the current Sei population is around 30,000. Sei whales have been specifically protected from commercial whaling by the IWC since 1975 in the North Pacific and 1979 in the southern hemisphere. This species is included in CITES Appendix I although Iceland has held a reservation against this listing since 2000.
1. ENDANGERED: North Atlantic Right Whale Eubalaena glacialis (Img Cred: Flickr, MyFWC)
1. ENDANGERED: North Atlantic Right Whale Hunted over the centuries for its oil and baleen, the North Atlantic Right Whale tops the list for the most endangered species of marine mammal in the world. American whalers hunted up to a 100 right whales a year off the coast of New England, before whaling was banned internationally in 1937. Illegal whaling still continued after the ban. But by then the right whale population had dipped to an all time low, and they’ve been endangered ever since. Estimates from the International Whaling Commission state that there are about 300 right whales off the eastern coast of America. The right whale is considered extinct in the Northeastern Atlantic ocean with no reported sightings for several decades. Although right whales are no longer hunted, their buoyancy makes them vulnerable to ship strikes and fishing nets. Eleven deaths were reported between 2004 and the end of 2006. Efforts are being made to conserve whales off the shores of New England by providing alternative shipping patterns and speed limits. (link to my article). The Right whale is on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES).