The North Atlantic right whale, known as the Basque whale (for being the first to hunt it), is one step away from extinction, says the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The desperate situation of the species has caused the organization to change the cetacean from the classification of “endangered” to “critically endangered” – the highest category of threat – in the latest review of the Red List, which has released this Thursday . In 2018 it was estimated that there were less than 250 mature individuals. “The total population had been reduced by approximately 15% since 2011,” specifies the organization.
The population decline, which started centuries ago, continues today through a combination of factors. To the increase in mortality due to the fact that the specimens become entangled in the fishing gear and collide with vessels when swimming near the coast, a low reproduction rate is added. “Of 30 confirmed deaths or serious human injuries to these whales between 2012 and 2016, 26 were due to entanglement with fishing gear,” says the IUCN.
Climate change intensifies the problems faced by the cetacean, which can reach 18 meters in length and weigh between 36,000 and 72,000 kilos. The rise in sea temperature has probably pushed its main dams further north during the summer, towards the Gulf of San Lorenzo, adds the IUCN. There the whales, which feed mainly on krill and copepods filtering the sea water, are more exposed to accidental encounters with boats and also have a high risk of becoming entangled in fishing gear. There are researchers who point to the accumulation of pollutants in the fat of cetaceans as another reason that may be influencing their health.
An investigation by an international team of scientists, published in May of this year in the journal Marine Ecology Progess Series , revealed in 2019 that the body status of these whales “is much worse” than that of the three populations in the southern hemisphere , in Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Scientists consider this “very troubling” finding to explain “why many North Atlantic Right Whales are dying and not having enough young to allow the population to recover.” At the same time, its poor condition could affect the growth of individuals and delay the sexual maturity of juveniles.
The intense persecution to which the mammal ( Eubalaena glacialis ) was subjected in the past made its population disappear in the eastern Atlantic, so that the European population is extinct. Historians place the apogee of its fishing in the Cantabrian Sea between the 13th and 14th centuries, its decline throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, and its settlement in the 18th, points out the CSIC’s Encyclopedia of Spanish Vertebrates . To this extraction was added the persecution of the Cantabrian whalers in their summer feeding areas. In northern Europe, between 134 and 137 whales were still caught from 1890 to 1937. Their mistakesThey were living near the coast, swimming slowly and having a greater layer of fat: it represents between 36% and 45% of their total weight. Its population is now concentrated in the western Atlantic, from Florida to Canada and Greenland, with rare observations in the eastern area.
The European hamster, lemurs and the most expensive mushroom in the world
The world’s most expensive fungus, ordyceps ( Ophiocordyceps sinensis), has entered the Red List in the vulnerable category. Their populations have declined 30% in the past 15 years as a result of overharvesting, IUCN maintains. Traditional Chinese medicine has used it for more than 2,000 years to treat many diseases, including those related to the kidneys and lungs. As a consequence, their demand has increased “dramatically since the 1990s.” With another added component: it only grows on the Tibetan plateau, and has become the main source of income that allows “thousands of people” to subsist.
IUCN also warns that the European hamster ( Critecus critecus), previously abundant throughout Europe and Russia, is also in critical danger. “If nothing changes, the species is expected to become extinct in 30 years,” says IUCN. The decline of this species is found in its low reproduction rates. If a female had an average of more than 20 offspring a year in the 20th century, today they only get between five or six offspring a year. The reasons for these low reproductive rates are not fully known, but “the expansion of monocultures, industrial development, global warming, and pollution” have been investigated as possible causes. The rodent has disappeared from three-quarters of its original habitat in the French Alsace region, at least a third in Germany, and more than 75% in Eastern Europe.
Lemurs also fail to rise and are on the verge of extinction. The new update features 33 critically endangered lemur species, with 103 of the 107 surviving species threatened with extinction, “primarily due to deforestation and hunting in Madagascar.” A work carried out for IUCN by the Global Tree Assessment concludes that “Madagascar’s dry forests harbor 982 tree species, 90% of which show decreasing population trends and 59% of which are threatened with extinction,” he explained. Paul Smith, Secretary General of Botanic Garden Conservation International.