The Beginning of the End of North Atlantic Right Whales? | SciShow News


[intro] June was a really bad month for North Atlantic
right whales. Of the remaining 411 individuals, 6 died. That’s almost one and a half percent of
the entire population gone in a month, which is…. Alarming. And mostly our fault. If we can’t fix what we’re breaking, we’re
looking at the functional extinction of these whales in just a few years— and their total disappearance not long after. That would make them the first whale to go
extinct as a result of commercial whaling. North Atlantic right whales are already one
of the most endangered whale species in the world. That’s because they used to be incredibly
popular with commercial whalers. Hence the name—they were considered the
“right” whales to target—so they were hunted to near-extinction. But then, governments stepped in to protect
them, and things started to look up. In fact, in the early part of this century,
their numbers seemed to be climbing. But that all changed around 2010. And the reason why is pretty clear. Research published last month found that we’ve
lost an average of 5.3 whales per year since 2009— and that’s not counting 2019 and June’s
Unusual Mortality Event. While researchers can’t always tell the
cause of death, most of the documented cases have been caused by humans: the whales either were hit by boats or caught
in a fishing lines. Of course, we’d like to see less whales
die by our hands, but accidents do happen. So it’s important to have an idea of how
many human-caused deaths a population can withstand and still be sustainable. That’s a value called the potential biological
removal or PBR. And researchers have calculated it for North
Atlantic Right Whales , taking into account things like how many
healthy whales are still around, their reproductive habits, and the availability of their prey. The problem is, that number is estimated to
be 0.9 whales a year— so, in the last decade or so, we’ve killed
more than five times that number. And there’s a lot we still don’t know— like, how many of them die outside of monitored
areas, or how many already have human-induced injuries that will lead to their death later
on. For instance, there was one female that died
fourteen years after being scarred by a propeller because her scars were re-opened by pregnancy
and became infected. Plus, the numbers are a bit skewed because
we’re more likely to find carcasses that have been struck by ships — those whales tend to be a little bulkier,
so they float. The whales that get tangled in fishing lines
tend to sink, so their bodies are never found. And not only are the whales dying too often,
they’re just not replacing their numbers. There’s only 90-100 adult females out there
right now, and last year, they gave birth to 7 new calves— and that was considered a good year. Researchers think they’re struggling to
reproduce because our changing climate is messing with their usual feeding and pupping
grounds, making conditions less favorable for the whale
moms. So basically, we’ve got a small population
of whales that aren’t making babies, and we’re not-so-slowly killing them off. Both the US and Canada have implemented new
laws in recent years to try to lower the number of human-caused deaths. Some have helped, but clearly, there’s more
work to do. Because ultimately, if we can’t stop these
losses from happening, it won’t be long before these majestic animals disappear entirely. And other whales similarly decimating by hunting
will probably suffer the same fate. In other news—and really, there’s no good
way to make this transition— research published in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences this week showed how bed bugs keep themselves from getting
sexually transmitted infections. And the findings might just help us keep these
pests from infiltrating our bedrooms. Now, these STIs aren’t like insect chlamydia
— we’re talking about infections that result from how these bugs have sex. Bed bugs reproduce through traumatic insemination. The male literally stabs his reproductive
organ through the female’s abdomen and deposits sperm into her body. This process can happen every week if the
female has access to a blood meal. You see, males generally target well-fed females
because they usually lay the most eggs. But that’s a lot of stab wounds to deal
with, which means a lot of opportunities for infection. But sort of luckily I guess -female bed bugs
are able to buff up their immune systems right before mating. What the researchers wanted to figure out
was what triggers them to do this. Turns out, it wasn’t what they expected. They thought the females might learn to ramp
up their immune defenses after repeated stabbings. But the team took two groups of adult virgin
female bed bugs and fed them as much as they wanted once a week for three weeks. And in the end, the ones stabbed by a glass
needle to mimic traumatic insemination didn’t have a greater immune response. Instead, every bug beefed up their immune
system after eating. That suggested the injuries the females receive
aren’t the driving factor—instead, the bugs just have this built in immune response
to food. But, the researchers still wondered if it
was the act of eating itself, or something else. So they took immature bed bugs and fed some
of them on a consistent weekly schedule. The others were fed at 5, 7, and 9 day intervals
so their meals were inconsistent but averaged out to the same once-per-week frequency. Intriguingly, the group that ate every week
ramped up their immune system way more after eating than the group with the varied eating
schedule. And this made a big difference when they stabbed
the bugs with bacteria-coated glass needles to mimic the wounds inflicted by male bugs— those that were on a predictable feeding schedule
had better survival rates. So, it’s not the food itself or a full belly,
but the animals’ anticipating that they’ll get food that triggers their immunological
preparation for mating. And that knowledge could help scientists find
better pest control strategies. They might be able to target female bed bugs
when they’re most vulnerable, for example, or uncover ways to make the bugs
more prone to infection. And the researchers think that other insects
might regulate their immune systems in similar ways, too so the more scientists learn about bed bugs,
the better equipped they may be to fight all sorts of pests. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
News! And thanks especially to our longest running
President of Space, SR Foxley. Your continued support really makes a huge
difference to us! So does the support of all our patrons. And if you join our patron community, you
can get all kinds of exclusive rewards while supporting this free, educational channel. You can find out more at Patreon.com/SciShow. [ outro ]

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21 thoughts on “The Beginning of the End of North Atlantic Right Whales? | SciShow News

  1. So one species we are trying to keep from going extinct and one we'd probably not mind driving to extinction. Mood whiplash, anyone?

  2. Hmm, didn't want to blame a certain country for the whaling of recent years, that was very diplomatic of you.
    Oh and is there a 100% link to global warming affecting breeding grounds/waters, or is this still theory?

  3. I just don't understand one thing:
    Most of you believe in evolution theory, instead of being excited you are moaning. It's not first time when stronger predator pushing to extinction weaker species. (And personality I believe that this isn't first time when we are that predator.)

  4. I don't see why these whales are not fitted with (AIS) automatic identification systems I'm sure we would make something small and powerful enough to tell other ships that have advanced system for detecting other ships that there is a whale they are about to hit.

    And if said whale was hit that penalty would easily pay for more new born whales to be fitted with more (AIS)….

    If you want something done you have to take action! if you want dead whales leave ships blind to them.

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