Basques blameless

Research suggests Little Ice Age caused right whales’ woes.

The DNA profile of a North Atlantic right whale’s humerus — collected from the remains of a shipwreck at the historic Red Bay whaling site along the Strait of Belle Isle — shows that Canada’s most endangered species was already suffering from a critically small population and a lack of genetic diversity before Basque whalers began harvesting the giant mammals in the 16th century.

The Basques have long been blamed for decimating the right whale population off Canada’s coast. But the new research by a team of Canadian and U.S. biologists, published in the latest issue of the journal Conservation Genetics, indicates that right whales were rarely killed by the Spanish-based whalers and that oil-rich bowhead whales were almost exclusively their targeted species.

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