Endangered Whales

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North Atlantic right whale. Fewer than 350 animals. Given such a small gene pool, scientists fear for its survival. One possible solution may be to reinvigorate the northern whale's genes with those of its more successful southern counterpart off South Africa. Recent reports of pregnant North Atlantic right whales killed by ship strikes off the north-eastern seaboard of the US do not augur well for the species. Fewer than 350 animals

Western Pacific grey whale. The most endangered of all great whales, and a potential victim of oil and gas exploitation off Sakhalin Island on the far east of Russia. Likely oil spills threaten the habitat of a population of as few as 120 individuals. The death of just three females could mean the extinction of the species. Fewer than 120 animals

Bowhead. Once known as the common or Greenland whale, this cetacean was targeted by British whalers in the 18th and 19th centuries; William Scoresby of Whitby took 533 in his whaling career alone. The bowhead – a close relative of the right whale – is rarely seen as it confines itself to Arctic waters, using its huge head to break ice in order to breathe. It is threatened by the receding polar ice, and by the probable expansion of the oil industry. Fewer than 120 animals

Narwhal. Another Arctic whale, its 10ft-long tusk – in fact, an overgrown tooth – is the source of the legendary unicorn's horn. (Medieval hunters and apothecaries conspired to create a market for its supposed properties as an antidote for poison and melancholia.) Named after the Norwegian for 'corpse whale', it is still hunted by aboriginal peoples, who can sell its ivory tusks for up to $7,000 a piece. It too is threatened by the shrinking north polar ice cap. Fewer than 120 animals

Cook Inlet beluga whales. Named after the Russian for white, belugas are known as canaries of the sea for their vocal chirrups and whistles. Common in the Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, they are under threat from pollutants such as mercury and PCBs: belugas that die in Canada's St Lawrence riverway are so contaminated their bodies are classified as toxic waste. Oil pollution in the Cook Inlet, Alaska, has caused the isolated population there to collapse to near extinction. Fewer than 400 animals

|species |population |status and listings* | |northern right |500-1,000 |endangered (ESA, IUCN) | |whale | | | |southern right |3,000 |endangered (ESA); vulnerable (IUCN) | |whale | | | |bowhead whale |8,000 |endangered (ESA, IUCN) | |blue whale |10,000-14,000 |endangered (ESA, IUCN) | |fin whale |120,000-150,000 |endangered (ESA); vulnerable (IUCN) | |sei whale |50,000 |endangered (ESA) | |humpback whale |10,000+ |endangered (ESA, IUCN) | |Sperm whale |200,000 |endangered (ESA) | |Vaquita |a few hundred |endangered (ESA) |...
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