Scientists Warn of Cetacean Extinction

In an unprecedented statement, 361 cetacean scientists, including AWI’s Dr. Naomi Rose, have signed an open letter expressing grave concern about the risk of extinction of many species and populations of cetaceans due to entanglement in fishing gear, chemical and noise pollution, loss of habitat and prey, climate change, and ship strikes.

photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA
photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA

The letter warns that many cetaceans, “one after another, will likely be declared extinct within our lifetimes,” and bemoans the lack of concrete action to address these human-caused threats “in our increasingly busy, polluted, over-exploited and human-dominated seas and major river systems.” 

Two critically endangered species—the North Atlantic right whale, with a population in the low hundreds, and the vaquita of Mexico’s Gulf of California, which could number as few as 10 individuals, are on a trajectory to follow the Chinese river dolphin “down the road to extinction.” 

Of the 90 living species of cetaceans, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers more than half to have a troubling conservation status, with 13 species listed as “Critically Endangered” or “Endangered,” seven as “Vulnerable,” and seven as “Near Threatened.” Twenty-four additional species, listed by the IUCN as “Data Deficient,” may also be imperiled. 

The scientists call on nations to take precautionary action to protect cetaceans from human activities and strengthen international organizations that can address the threats they face. The scientists note that cetaceans are sentinels of the aquatic world’s health, and their well-being is linked to our own.