Right whales are in serious trouble. Over the past year, there have been a record 18 deaths and zero births, and the population of North Atlantic right whales has dwindled. Now there are only 430 left in the world.

“The story is just a simple one of arithmetic,” says Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of the Right Whale Ecology program at the Center for Coastal Studies.   

“If you have fewer births and higher mortalities, extinction is around the corner.”

Scientists predict that right whales could become extinct as soon as 2024. There’s a variety of reasons for the population decline, says Mayo.

The reproduction rate is incredibly low. And climate change could be affecting right whales’ food supply of plankton and shifting their migration patterns to areas where they have a higher chance of getting killed or injured.

Fishing lines are also a huge problem for whales, says Mayo. “If the ropes are very heavy and the tangle is very bad, the whale may drag heavy gear — usually anchored gear — and they may drag that for up to many months, and in some cases, years.”

From PRI's The World ©2017 PRI