After a Eubalaena glacialis whale dies, it floats. Moby-Dick-era whalers knew this and gave the species—treasured for its high blubber content—its common name: They’re the “right whale” to hunt. Now, with only around 500 of them left in the wild, North Atlantic right whales are the most endangered whale species in the world.
Harpoons are no longer their enemy. Eight out of 10 right whales bear the scars left behind by accidental encounters with fishing rope, one Georgia wildlife official told Newsweek. These thick lines can wrap so tightly around the whales that they die from lacerations.
Right whales are also uniquely disposed to collisions with ships. By nature, they swim toward boat noises, which often leads to gruesome accidents. Worse yet, as the oil and gas industry lobbies for permission to drill offshore, scientists say the deafening noise from seismic oil exploration could spawn devastating consequences.
Extreme noise pollution has been known to kill hundreds of whales and dolphins at a time. In the worst case, they say it could someday lead to an extinction right before our eyes.
"We’re filling their ocean with noise," says Christopher W. Clark, a senior scientist at Cornell University. He tells Newsweek that, "their whole social network is dependent on calling back and forth."
It’s how they find food and stick together. He believes the constant groan of ship engines has already contributed to slow reproduction of the large, aquatic mammals.