These 15 ocean species have already gone extinct. A dozen others will probably disappear in our lifetime.
- The planet is experiencing a mass extinction- the sixth time in Earth's history that a wide swath of species are seeing a major collapse in their populations.
- Human activities are to blame: pollution, farming, and deforestation are destroying natural habitats, while carbon emissions are causing the oceans to warm at unprecedented rates.
- According to a recent report from the United Nations, up to 1 million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, many within decades.
- Marine species have experienced fewer extinctions than their land-based counterparts, but 15 ocean animals have gone extinct in the last 100 years, and 72 more are on the verge of extinction.
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A growing body of evidence suggests the planet is in the midst of a sixth mass extinction. Animal species around the world are being hit on multiple fronts as habitat loss, hotter oceans, and climate change drive their populations down at unprecedented rates.
According to a recent United Nations report, up to 1 million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, and many could disappear within decades.
The report blamed one factor for this trend: humans. Pollution, deforestation, and habitat destruction due to farming and development have already "severely altered" 75% of all land and 40% of marine environments, it said.
A 2017 study suggested the Earth is undergoing a process of "biological annihilation." As many as half of the total number of animal individuals that once shared the planet with us are already gone, it found.
Although the oceans absorb 93% of the excess heat trapped on Earth due to greenhouse gases, far fewer ocean species have gone extinct over the past 500 than those on land so far. A 2015 study noted that, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), just 15 marine animals had gone extinct by then, compared to 514 terrestrial animal species.
That ratio could shift in the coming years, though. Here are the 15 extinct ocean animals (that we know of), along with a dozen others that are on the verge of extinction.
Since the 1500s, 15 ocean animals have vanished from the world's oceans. Many were never photographed.
The last Labrador duck ever seen was in Elmira, New York in 1878.
The great auk disappeared in the mid-1800s. The flightless bird was not closely related to penguins, despite their similar appearance.
The only marine fish to have gone extinct thus far is the New Zealand grayling. The Galapagos Damsel fish may also be extinct, but that has not yet been officially confirmed.
The Eelgrass limpet, a species of sea snail, used to be abundant in the waters of the western Atlantic.
The IUCN officially declared the Caribbean monk seal extinct in 2008, after the creature hadn't been seen for more than 50 years.
The Japanese sea lion, which swam in the northwest Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, also went extinct in the 1970s.
The carnivorous sea mink, which swam along the rocky coasts of New England and Nova Scotia, was hunted to extinction at the turn of the 20th century.
Stellar's sea cow, a manatee-like creature, was discovered in the frigid waters of Alaska's Bering Sea in 1741. Within 27 years, the animal had been hunted to extinction for its meat and hide.
In the past three decades, about 50% of coral reefs around the world have died.
Overall, more than one-third of the world's marine mammals are threatened with extinction.
The short-nosed sea snake hasn't been seen since 2000.
The most endangered marine mammal alive today is the vaquita, a tiny porpoise that swims in the warm waters of the Gulf of California.
Other critically endangered marine creatures include the Hawksbill turtle.
This endangered smalltooth sawfish looks like a shark, but it's actually a type of ray.
The Nassau grouper is an iconic Caribbean reef fish, but it's threatened by overfishing.
The starry sturgeon is also critically endangered. This fish frequents the Black, Azov, Caspian, and Aegean seas near central Europe and Asia.
The population of southern bluefin tuna has declined dramatically over the last five decades as well. Due to the high fat content of the fish's flesh, it's a popular delicacy.
European eels are also approaching extinction due to overfishing.
Despite its clever camouflage tactics on the Atlantic ocean floor, the angelshark, or monkfish, is critically endangered, too.
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