The ocean’s mammals are at a crucial crossroads – with some at risk of extinction and others showing signs of recovery, researchers say.
In a detailed review of the status of the world’s 126 marine mammal species — which include whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, manatees, dugongs, sea otters and polar bears — scientists found that bycatch, the accidental capture of marine mammals during commercial fishing, coastal habitat destruction, climate change and pollution are among the key drivers of the decline of an increasing number of species.
A quarter of these species are now classified as being at risk of extinction (vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List), with the near-extinct vaquita porpoise and the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale among those in greatest danger.
Conservation efforts have enabled recoveries among other species, including the northern elephant seal, humpback whale and Guadalupe fur seal.
FIU Institute of Environment Assistant Professor Jeremy Kiszka was among the international team of researchers from 30 institutions in 30 countires who co-authored the study published in the journal Endangered Species Research.
“We need to address a large number of threats at the same time,” Kiszka said. “It helps to realize that the task is getting bigger and the threats are more significant.”