Our ecosystem comprises interdependent animals and plants, constituting a complex web of life. This variety of life on earth, the biodiversity that features numerous interactions among the species, is vital to the existence of our planet. Thus, the extinction of a single species may affect the whole biological system.
Unfortunately, the intervention of human beings in nature is pushing several species to the brink of extinction due to deforestation and habitat destruction. Hence, real and practical conservation efforts are needed.
From unknown creatures to Charismatic megafauna, these disappearances in the ecosystem happen frequently. On land, wildlife like orangutans, Black Rhinos, Amur Leopard, and Giant Pandas are some of the most critically endangered species in the world.
Similarly, many marine species, including North Atlantic Right Whale, Whale Sharks, Asian Giant Softshell Turtle found in Southeast Asia, porpoises, bluefin tuna, sea otters, manatee, and fur seals are on the edge of extinction as climate change, habitat loss and overfishing become a major threat to their existence.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), hundreds of marine species across the world come under endangered and critically endangered categories.
The IUCN red list determines the status of species by considering the probability of their extinction, breeding levels, current population, and other factors. Some of the endangered and recognizable marine species are named here.
Let’s take a look at ten endangered marine animals.
1. Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate)
Found in the tropical regions of all the world’s oceans, gulfs and seas- mostly in coral reefs, the Hawksbill Turtle’s population has been estimated to have declined by 80% over the last century.
Known to be a subject of heavy trafficking in the tourist trade in tropical regions for their meat and shells, these turtles have been killed mercilessly for quite a period.
The colourful shells of the Hawksbill Turtle, with beautiful patterns, make them a valuable item in the market, often sold as “tortoiseshell.”
Even though harvesting its eggs is banned in many countries, the practice could not be ceased entirely. The declination of its population has also resulted due to the degradation of coral reef species, which the Hawksbill Turtle primarily feeds on.
According to marine conservatives, this family of the turtle is the living representatives of reptiles that have existed in our oceans for the past hundred million years, and these turtles are vital for the existence of seagrass beds and coral reefs.
2. Vaquita (Phoeocna sinus)
An inhabitant of the shallow, murky waters off the shore of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, Vaquitas are the world’s smallest and critically endangered cetaceans.
This rare marine mammal is on the brink of extinction only a half-century after its first sighting. Features of Vaquita include the dark rings around their eyes, lips with dark patches, and a thin line from the mouth to dorsal fins.
Extensive use of gill-netting for fishing in the Gulf of California has endangered this marine species, resulting in a gradual drop in population since the 1940s.
The gill-netting operation may have ceased to exist in 1970, but the population fall persists for as much as 15% yearly.
According to reports, there are only a dozen of these marine mammals left in the world since the percentage of decline in their population was as much as 90% since 2011.
3. Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
The largest living mammal on earth, the blue whale, belongs to the baleen whales and features more than 100 feet in length and around 200 tonnes in weight.
There are at least three subspecies of Blue whales, and these could be found migrating from both poles in the oceans around the world. Sitting on top of the food chain, whales have a significant role in maintaining a healthy marine environment.
Unfortunately, excessive commercial hunting has drastically decreased its population and now has threatened its mere existence even though an international ban was constituted in 1966. According to IUCN’s 2016 estimate, the global population of the Blue Whale is 10,000–25,000.
4. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)
The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, also known as the Atlantic Ridley sea turtle, is endangered by the rarest and smallest sea turtle. Sea turtles are threatened by oil spills, lack of food, marine pollution, and entanglement in fishing gear.
Primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle often migrates to the Atlantic Ocean only to come back to lay eggs. This group of turtles has a unique way of nesting. The female turtles arrive in large numbers- a procession called Arribadas- on a single beach to lay eggs.
Unfortunately, the conditions such as loss of habitat, marine pollution, entanglement in fishing nets, etc., have resulted in the huge decline of the population of the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.
Thus, harvesting of eggs has been made illegal, and research projects of incubating and hatching the eggs in temperature-controlled rooms have been undertaken to save this endangered marine species.
5. Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopiasjubatus)
The largest member of the Otariid family and the fourth largest of all seal species, this eared seal could be located in the cold coastal waters of the North Pacific. Also known as the northern sea lion, the species is named after Georg Wilhelm Steller, a naturalist who first discovered them in 1741.
The high risk of predation by Killer Whales and fishing and harvest by native Alaskans and Canadians for meat, oil, hides, and other by-products make this marine life vulnerable to endangerment.
According to reports, its population has declined by more than 60% due to natural and human threats since the 1960s. However, the eastern Steller sea lion was omitted from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2013 after increasing population in recent years.
6. Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna mokarran)
Traced in the tropical regions of the oceans around the world, the Hammerhead shark belongs to the family Sphyrnidae and is given the name because of its “hammer” shaped head.
The Hammerhead sharks typically have 0.9 to 6.0 m in length and up to 580 kg in weight. Known as aggressive hunters, these sharks feed on smaller fish, squid crustaceans, and octopuses, while there are reports of unprovoked attacks on humans by the shark.
These migratory sharks are subjected to being victimized for their fin. Even the process is horrifying as the sharks are caught by fishers, dragged on board, and cut off their fins while still breathing.
The remaining carcass is thrown into the water, and eventually, it bleeds to death. Albeit there is a ban on shark finning in many countries, the result has been abortive as the demand and high price paid for it in the Asian market drive the illegal harvest system, endangering these marine species’ survival.
7. Fin Whale (Balaenopteraphysalus)
Also known as the common rorqual, the Fin whale is the second-largest mammal on the planet after Blue Whale. With a maximum length of 25.9 meters, the Fin Whale has an estimated weight of about 114 tonnes. Like all the other whales in our oceans, the Fin Whale is also a victim of hunting. According to estimates, the global population of Fin Whale ranges from below 100,000 to around 119,000.
Humpback Whale, another rorqual species, has also been listed as an endangered marine species. Before the introduction of the whaling moratorium in 1966, these species were hunted for their fur and flesh for meat, while the population dropped by 90%. Currently, around 2,500 Humpback Whales survive in the world.
8. Hector’s Dolphin (Cephalorhynchushectori)
Found off the coast of New Zealand, Hector’s Dolphins are the smallest dolphin in the world and the most prominent dolphin in the genus Cephalorhynchus. Mostly sighted around the South Island, the world’s rarest dolphins’ features include black markings on the face, stocky bodies, and creamy white throat and belly. One group of Hector’s Dolphin is made of two to eight members.
Unfortunately, there is a significant decline in their population as trawl fisheries, and bottom-set gill nets cause the death of these species. Most deaths happen in the fishing nets. One of the two sub-species of Hector’s Dolphin, Maui’s dolphin, is considered the most endangered. According to the survey conducted by the New Zealand Department of Conservation in 2010-11, the estimated population of these dolphins is 55.
9. Hawaiian Monk Seal (Monachusschauinslandi)
A native of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Hawaiian Monk Seal is one of the earless seals who live on warm beaches, unlike other seals.
This endangered marine mammal is one of the two remaining in this species-monk seal- along with the Mediterranean monk seal. The third species from this family, the Caribbean monk seal, has already disappeared from the planet.
According to recent research, only 1,400 Hawaiian Monk Seal remain on the Islands. These seals are threatened by commercial hunting for meat, oil, and skin, attack from predators including tiger sharks, marine debris, and entanglement in fishing nets.
10. Green sea turtle (Cheloniamydas)
One of the largest sea turtles, the Green Sea Turtle, is a herbivore in the tropical and subtropical seas. The species is named after the colour of the fat found underneath its carapace. Like many other turtles, Green Sea Turtles migrate from hatching beaches to feeding grounds.
Since these sea turtles are a popular food, the hunt for turtles and their eggs threatens their lives. The loss of sandy beaches and careless fishing have reduced their population.
Apart from these mammals and turtles, salmonids and seabirds also have confronted the menace of endangered ocean species. The Maritime Mammal Protection Act (MMPA-1972) and The Endangered Species Act (ESA-1973) have significantly salvaged this ocean life. Still, it requires adequate awareness of these issues and the transcendence of human behaviour following that, which can inevitably make a difference for these ocean-endangered species.
Frequently Asked Questions About Endangered Animals
1. What are some endangered animals found in the ocean?
Sea turtles, manatees, whale sharks, bottleneck dolphins, sawfish, dugongs, great white sharks, humpback whales, etc., are a few endangered marine animals.
2. How many sea animals are endangered?
Approximately 2270 marine species are listed as endangered in the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
3. How many sea animals are there on earth?
There are about 2.2 million identified species on earth. Scientists believe that a majority are waiting to be discovered.
4. What causes the extinction of marine species?
Global warming, marine pollution, habitat loss, and oxygen depletion are the main reasons for the mass extinction of marine species.
5. What is the rarest ocean animal?
Vaquita is the world’s rarest marine animal.
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