New Study Reveals Whales’ Most Common Cause of Death

Written by on October 9, 2012 in Marine Life, Policy & Ocean Law
North Atlantic right whale mother feeding with calf. Photo credit: Peter Duley, NOAA/NEFSC.

North Atlantic right whale mother feeding with calf. Photo credit: Peter Duley, NOAA/NEFSC.

A new study that analyzed 40 years of whale deaths shows that most are still caused by humans; current protection measures not as effective as we had hoped.

The right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is one of the most endangered animals in the ocean, with only about 460 individuals remaining in the North Atlantic.  Because of their precarious status, Canadian and American governments have enacted several protection measures, aimed at preventing whales from getting caught up in fishing gear or being hit by ships, but it isn’t enough.

Julie van der Hoop and Michael Moore, marine-mammal researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and their colleagues, analyzed the deaths of eight whale species in the northwest Atlantic from 1970 to 2009.

Summary of deaths of three species during that period:

‘Human interaction’ was the most common cause of death out of all cases where a cause of death could be assigned.  It accounted for 67 percent of the deaths.

Moore said that the findings were “hugely disappointing.”  He continued to clarify that the study was a very broad analysis and that many local efforts are making a difference, they were just not large enough to show up in their study.

To learn more:
Read more from Scientific American, here: Most Whale Deaths in Past 40 Years Were Caused by Humans
Find the results published in Conservation Biology, here: Assessment of Management to Mitigate Anthropogenic Effects on Large Whales

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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