Endangered Marine Animals
Until recently, humankind seemed to view the ocean as a source of infinite resources. Its vast size and depth and unexplored frontiers made the ocean appear invulnerable to overexploitation. The truth is that the populations of many species are decreasing at an unsustainable rate, endangering a large number of marine animals and the number of species listed as endangered from marine life families such as whales, dolphins, manatees and dugongs, salmon, seabirds, turtles, and sharks to name a few, are on the rise. The threats to marine species are difficult to perceive because marine animals are not as visible as animals on land. But unfortunately, marine creatures are equally, if not more, vulnerable to problems such as habitat destruction and overexploitation. Shallow water animals that breathe air, like turtles, manatees, dugongs, and whales are often hit by boats and caught in fishing gear. Species such as turtles that lay their eggs on land often lose their nurseries due to coastal development. Animals that have taken millions of years to evolve, that are invaluable to all ecosystems, have and continue to vanish from places where they once flourished.
Loss of habitats, the spread of disease, pollution, and unsustainable fishing practices are directly related to the actions of humans and recovery from these problems is rarely straightforward. Many marine species live in small, specific habitats while others require protection across their migration routes that cover vast areas and include breeding and feeding grounds. Marine protected areas (MPAs) have been designated in many places worldwide, which can help protect and restore threatened species, but MPAs are limited in size and therefore, limited to the marine life that inhabits those areas. Which leaves large areas of endangered marine animals unprotected.
By being more informed, we can take steps to reverse some of the damage done before these species reach the vaquita’s critical point. And with heightened awareness about everything from ocean plastic to the impact chemicals in our sunscreen have on the ecosystem, we can begin to Because every day should be World Ocean Day, we take a moment to reflect on just a few of the endangered marine animals around the world. The more you know, the more you can help. take steps to conserve these important animals.
Discover 7 of the world's most endangered marine animals
The Vaquita Porpoise, or ‘little cow’ in Spanish, is found in shallow waters along the Gulf of California. Their distinctive (and rather adorable) markings include dark rings around their face, lips and eyes. It is thought that there are less than 30 of these cetaceans left in the wild, making them the most endangered marine species on the planet.
Although never directly hunted, their population is in great decline due to accidental entanglement. The Vaquita are frequently caught within fixed fishing nets (gillnets) used by illegal operators in Mexico. Since they cannot surface, the poor animals are unable to breath and drown within minutes.
Work is being done to ban gill-net fishing in the area, however it is the illegal operators which are the main cause for the decline of this species. Sadly, the Vaquita was only discovered in 1958 and being the most endangered animal in the ocean, they are perilously close to extinction.
Here are some of the ways you can help save the Vaquita Porpoise from extinction.
Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean, known to grow up to 18 metres long, weigh up to 19,000 kilograms and live for 70 to 130 years. Each whale shark has unique polka-dot markings on their body, similar to a human fingerprint. They have mouths that are nearly a metre wide, with more than 350 rows of teeth, but these gentle giants feed mainly on plankton, using their mouths as a filtration system.
As of 2016, these beautiful creatures have been classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with an alarming reduction in sightings. Their disappearance is largely due to commercial fishing and illegal poaching, with demand coming largely from China for their meat, fins and oil which are sold for food, and their skin for bags.
Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle
The smallest marine turtle in the world, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, has seen a sharp decline since an amateur video from 1947 showed 42,000 females nesting in a single day. The critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley lives in shallow waters where they can feed on crab, mollusks, and jellyfish. Part of its misfortune came from egg overharvesting over the course of the last century. Though their nesting beaches in Rancho Nuevo have been protected since 1966 and changes to fishing gear have been implemented to leave them unharmed, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle hasn’t seen a population rebound.
Where do they live? Mainly the Gulf of Mexico, though some can be found along the Atlantic coast
How many are left? Between 7,000 to 9,000 nesting females
What can you do to help? Don’t purchase items made from sea turtle parts, which are often sold to tourists around the world. Also, you can donate to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
It is hard to believe that the largest animal known to man is one of the most endangered animals in the ocean. During the industrial revolution whaling was big business, and Blue Whales were hunted for their meat and blubber which was used in the production of oil, soap, perfume and cosmetics. Commercial hunting lead the Blue Whale alarmingly close to becoming an extinct marine animal, however in 1966 they were protected by the International Whaling Commission.
Although commercial whaling is no longer a threat to Blue Whales, their dwindling population now faces new threats like climate change and pollution, making the Blue Whale one of the oceans most endangered marine species.
The only penguin that lives north of the equator, the Galápagos penguin’s population declined by 70% in the 1980’s. Though it’s has since made a slight recovery, one of the biggest threats to the penguins is the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which affects sea temperatures. This causes a shortage of food for the Galápagos penguins, with many starving to death. El Niño also impacts their breeding season and life cycle. Other issues for the species include pollution, bycatch, and the introduction of other species. Dogs, for instance, carry diseases that can spread to the penguins, and cats are predators.
Where do they live? Galápagos archipelago
How many are left? Less than 2,000
What can you do to help? The Galápagos Conservancy works to rebuild nesting sites in order to reverse the declining population of the species.
The gorgeous sea otter is one of the smallest marine mammals on earth, and they play a crucial role in our ecosystem, feeding on sea urchins which allows kelp forests to thrive. They’re an incredible species, boasting an impressive string of skills.
Sea otters can live their entire life without leaving the water; they are one of the few species on earth that use tools to survive (they use rocks to hammer shells open); they are the only marine mammal that can flip boulders over on the sea floor; they consume between 25 to 40% of their body weight every day; and they adorably hold hands while they sleep, to keep from drifting apart. They also have the densest fur of any creature on earth, with around 1 million hairs per square inch. Unfortunately, their beautiful fur is also their biggest threat, due to rampant hunting by humans for sea otter pelts.
Their populations once numbered over several hundred thousand, however their numbers plummeted to less than 2,000 due to the fur trade. Since the international ban on large-scale commercial hunting in 1911, numbers have increased to just over 100,000. Sadly, the sea otter is still classified as endangered by the IUCN, due to other threats such as pollution, oil spills and entanglement in fishing equipment.
North Atlantic Right Whale
There are only around 400 North Atlantic Right Whales left in our oceans. Due to a great deal of oily blubber they carry, these whales were targeted heavily by hunters and almost reached extinction in the early 20th Century until a ban was put in place in 1937.
Sadly, the species never truly recovered and has been in decline ever since. North Atlantic Right Whale deaths are increasing each year. In 2017 alone, 17 whales died. The whales migrate through the Atlantic coastal waters from Canada all the way down to Florida, a route which often overlaps with shipping lanes, making them a prime target for boat strikes. Today, this is primarily why the North Atlantic Right Whale is an endangered ocean species facing extinction.