Ten Updated Baleen Whale Red List Assessments Published in July 2018

Assessments or reassessments of 10 cetacean species, subspecies or populations were published on the IUCN Red List in July 2018. This is in addition to the 19 new assessments that were published in November 2017. The updated assessments were all baleen whales, and included the North Atlantic Right Whale, North Pacific Right Whale, Southern Right Whale, Bowhead Whale, Bryde’s Whale, and Antarctic Minke Whale (see Table 1 for details).  The Chile-Peru subpopulation of Southern Right Whales and the NE Pacific subpopulation of North Pacific Right Whales both remain Critically Endangered. The North Atlantic and North Pacific Right Whale species are both Endangered, as is the Okhotsk Sea subpopulation of Bowhead Whales, and the East Greenland-Svalbard-Barents Sea subpopulation of Bowhead Whales, which was previously classified as Critically Endangered, was downlisted to Endangered. Two species moved out of the Data Deficient category: the Antarctic Minke Whale moved to Near Threatened and Bryde’s Whale to Least Concern.  Work on new assessments is continuing and it is expected that another 41 taxa will be published on the November 2018 Red List update.

Table 1 – Summary of reassessments or new assessments published in the 2018-1 (July) Red List update. (NT = Near Threatened; DD = Data Deficient. CR = Critically Endangered, EN=Endangered, LC=Least Concern)

#
Species
Common name
Taxonomic level
Category
Status change
1
Balaena mysticetus
Bowhead Whale
Species (global)
LC
No change
2
Balaena mysticetus
Bowhead Whale
East Greenland-Svalbard-Barents Sea subpopulation
EN
Downlisted from CR to EN
3
Balaena mysticetus
Bowhead Whale
Okhotsk Sea subpopulation
EN
No change
4
Balaenoptera bonaerensis
Antarctic Minke Whale
Species (global)
NT
DD to NT
5
Balaenoptera edeni
Bryde’s whale
Species (global)
LC
DD to LC
6
Eubalaena australis
Southern Right Whale
Species (global)
LC
No change
7
Eubalaena australis
Southern Right Whale
Chile-Peru subpopulation
CR
No change
8
Eubalaena japonica
North Pacific Right Whale
Species (global)
EN
No change
9
Eubalaena japonica
North Pacific Right Whale
NE Pacific subpopulation
CR
No change
10
Eubalaena glacialis
North Atlantic Right Whale
Species (global)
EN
No change

All 89 cetacean species and an additional 38 subspecies or subpopulations have been assessed and their status and documentation can be found on the IUCN Red List website (redlist.org).  Of the 89 species, 24% are assigned to a threatened category (i.e. CR, EN, VU, NT) and nearly 50% are considered DD although ongoing Red List assessment updates of Data Deficient species is likely to see most of these reclassified in the near future (see Table 2).

Table 2. Summary information on Red List status as of July 2018.

Category
Species
Subspecies/
populations
Total
Critically Endangered
3
16
19
Endangered
10
10
20
Vulnerable
6
7
13
Near Threatened
2
0
2
Least Concern
26
0
26
Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent*
0
1
1
Data Deficient
42
4
46
Total
89
38
127

*This category is no longer recognized; therefore this assessment is out of date.

 

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Update on Yangtze finless porpoise in China

Since 2013, the Yangtze River subspecies of narrow-ridged finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis) has been red-listed as Critically Endangered.  As noted in a news item on this website posted 10 December 2015, the population of Yangtze finless porpoises in the semi-natural reserve at Tian-E-Zhou oxbow had increased rapidly and was more than 60 at that time. Chinese scientists were hopeful that improved management of this reserve would allow its fish resources to increase and the porpoise population there to maintain its positive trajectory. At the same time, a new, considerably larger semi-natural reserve in nearby He-Wang-Miao oxbow was being developed and stocked at least partly by animals from Tian-E-Zhou. The report of the 2018 meeting of the IWC Sub-committee on Small Cetaceans listed as one of the measures needed for a ‘sustained recovery’ of the Yangtze porpoise subspecies as a whole, “Strengthening the ex situ conservation management programs and moving towards releasing animals from the semi-natural reserves into the Yangtze River and adjoining lakes as part of a step-wise restocking plan.”

In the light of the above, it was surprising to learn in late July of this year that the Anhui Provincial Agricultural Committee had approved sending six porpoises from the Xijiang Finless Porpoise Reserve (established in Anhui province in 2016 and currently stocked with about 20 animals including some taken from the wild and some from Tian-E-Zhou) and eight directly from the Tian-E-Zhou reserve (Hubei province) to commercial display facilities at Chimelong (Guangdong) and Haichang (Shanghai). There is no evidence to suggest that either of these facilities has the capability or commitment to carry out a captive breeding program. Even if some of the porpoises brought into the commercial enclosures were to survive and reproduce, such a program has little potential to contribute to the ultimate goal of enhancing the wild population in the Yangtze River and its lakes. In contrast, the steadily growing network of semi-natural reserves appears to be a promising approach with real potential, and removing animals from those reserves to supply commercial display facilities is bound to be counterproductive.

From the information available, this initiative does not appear to be consistent with the mandate of the Saving Yangtze Finless Porpoise Alliance announced by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture in June 2017 (http://en.people.cn/n3/2017/0614/c90000-9228521.html). Nor is it clear that such a program has the support of China’s internationally recognized finless porpoise experts.  The Cetacean Specialist Group sent a letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs in China on 17th August 2018 strongly urging a reconsideration of the approach and requesting them to refrain from depleting the populations in reserves to supply commercial facilities.

 

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Totoaba season ends with 400 active totoaba gillnets removed

Although efforts to remove lethal gillnets from the vaquita’s habitat will continue, the totoaba spawning season is now past.  With fewer than 30 vaquitas remaining and the idea of rescuing some by capturing them and placing them in a protected enclosure not considered viable at this stage, conservation action is now focused on enforcement of the gillnet ban and net removal. May saw a dramatic drop in the number of nets retrieved.  The Farley Mowat finished operations and effectively concluded this year’s operations on 4 June. No active totoaba nets were removed in June. During the 2017/2018 totoaba spawning season as a whole (December through May), 400 active totoaba nets were removed by 4 different vessels representing 77,900 m of net. One dead vaquita was found that had died of gillnet entanglement (see March Report for necropsy results).  A video summary film of the season has been released by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society here.

Dec
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Total
Narval
n/a
2
36
20
19
1
78
Farley Mowat
2
0
9
44
69
10
134
JPD
16
27
51
5
n/a
n/a
99
Sharpie
n/a
n/a
n/a
35
51
3
89
Total
18
30
96
104
139
14
400

The map (Source: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Internal Reports) shows active nets removed from December 2017-June 4, 2018 by all net removal operations. The yellow dots are active totoaba nets removed prior to May and the black dots those removed during May only. The black line denotes the Vaquita Refuge and the orange line the enhanced enforcement area.

The data clearly show that illegal fishing remains at a very high level in areas known to have contained vaquitas last fall.  A huge “thank you” goes out to all participants in this effort: the Department of the Environment (SEMARNAT), Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro, Museo de la Ballena, the Mexican Navy and Army, PEMEX, WWF-Mexico, Parley for the Oceans, PRONATURA, World Animal Protection, and the fishermen’s organizations PESCA ABC and Cooperativa Islas del Golfo. The Mexican Fisheries Department CONAPESCA recently started supporting the program as well.

Acoustic monitoring will begin in a few weeks and last through mid-August.  This monthly reporting on the CSG website will be suspended for now.

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