A newly published study from the University of Exeter has revealed that at least 25% of marine mammals are classified as threatened of extinction.
The findings come after the research team investigated the status of 126 species marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, manatees, dugongs, sea otters and polar bears.
Not only are 25% classified as being vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, but 98% of marine mammal species are at some level of risk in 56% of the ocean, mainly in coastal waters.
Researchers found that the North Atlantic right whale and the near-extinct vaquita porpoise are among the species that are in the greatest danger, though the team noted that populations of other ocean mammals, such as the northern elephant seal and humpback whale, have benefitted from conservation efforts.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Sarah Nelms, of the Center for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, said we have reached a ‘critical point’ in marine mammal conservation, Earth.com reports.
Very few marine mammal species have been driven to extinction in modern times, but human activities are putting many of them under increasing pressure.
Our paper examines a range of conservation measures – including Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), bycatch reduction methods and community engagement – as well as highlighting some of the species that are in urgent need of focus.
The study, published in Endangered Species Research, also looked into the threats to animals and determined that population declines are a result of climate change, fisheries, pollution and other forms of human activity.
The team has noted that 21% of marine mammal species are listed as ‘data deficient’ on the IUCN Red List, meaning there is not enough evidence to assess their conservation status, and therefore making it more difficult to identify which species are in need of protection.
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