Accidental deaths threaten endangered whale

Accidental deaths among the endangered North Atlantic right whale threaten survival of species.

A high number of accidental deaths this year among the endangered North Atlantic right whale threaten the survival of the species, according to conservation groups and marine scientists.

The right whales, which summer off of New England and Canada, are among the most imperilled marine mammals on Earth as populations have only slightly rebounded from the whaling era, when they nearly became extinct.

Twelve of the whales are known to have died since April, meaning about 2 per cent of the population has perished in just a few months, biologist Regina Asmutis-Silvia of the Plymouth, Massachusetts-based group Whale and Dolphin Conservation told The Associated Press this week. She and others who study the whales said this summer has been the worst season for right whale deaths since hunting them became illegal 80 years ago.

“This level of deaths in such a short time is unprecedented,” she said. “I just don’t know that right whales have time for people to figure it out. They need help now.”

Ten of the deaths were off the Atlantic coast of Canada while two were off Massachusetts.

Four of the animals showed evidence of ship strikes while another appeared to have become entangled in fishing gear and at least one is still pending a necropsy, Asmutis-Silvia said. Some were too badly decomposed to determine the cause of death, she said.

Asmutis-Silvia and other conservationists said the deaths are evidence that regulations to prevent strikes and entanglements need to be strengthened in the United States and Canada.

Scott Kraus, head of the New England Aquarium’s right whale research program, said it’s possible that right whales are more vulnerable to hazards now because they’re travelling more because of changes in food availability or warming ocean waters.

“When whales travel more, they put themselves in harm’s way more,” Kraus said.

The 12 deaths are only the observed mortalities, and there could have been additional natural deaths in the wild, Kraus said.

The future of right whale rescue efforts has been a subject of debate since veteran whale rescuer Joe Howlett died on July 10 after freeing a right whale off New Brunswick. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration responded by suspending efforts to free whales tangled in fishing lines, and later announced that rescue teams would resume most operations.

Marine regulators in the U.S. and Canada said government is putting a focus on protecting right whales. Speed restrictions have dramatically reduced the number of right whale ship strike deaths, said Mike Asaro, marine mammal and sea turtle branch chief for NOAA’s Greater Atlantic Region.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is using a host of new methods to try to help the whales, including surveillance flights along the Gulf of St. Lawrence coastline and closing a snow crab fishing area, said Sarah Gilbert, a spokeswoman for the department. The Canadian government also recently announced new speed restrictions for ships.

It’s believed 80 to 100 right whales are currently in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

However, the department has suspended responses to entangled right whales following Howlett’s death. “While the entanglement of a whale is an extremely difficult and distressing situation, our first priority is the safety of those involved in marine mammal response,” Gilbert said.

Charles “Stormy” Mayo, senior scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts, said the whales will need more immediate action if they are to recover. Only five baby right whales appear to have been born this year, and the species can’t withstand many years when deaths outnumber births, Kraus said.

“It’s really time, if we care about wild animals, to focus on the right whales,” Mayo said. “Its story is definitely not good.”

Patrick Whittle, The Associated Press

Just Posted

WIND WARNING: Metro Vancouver expecting 100 km/h gusts Saturday night

Environment Canada issues warns of possibly dangerous conditions

Langley-based Team BC curls into semis, despite illness

Team Tardi is representing B.C. at the New Holland Canadian Junior Championships in Quebec.

Fraser Health asking taxpayers for millions more in health care capital funding

Health authority wants Fraser Valley taxpayers to triple annual contribution to $5.75 million

Giants fall in six-round shootout

Visiting Victoria squad beats Vancouver 4-3 at Langley Events Centre

UPDATE: 24-year-old Lovepreet Dhaliwal ID’d as victim in targeted Abbotsford shooting

Location of shooting the same as where innocent bystander Ping Shun Ao killed in 2015

VIDEO: Indoor pumpkin patch plans unveiled as Langley nursery wraps up from Glow

A first-ever indoor light show and Christmas market proved so popular organizers are looking at other ideas.

Two Canadians, two Americans abducted in Nigeria are freed

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, especially on the Kaduna to Abuja highway

Are you ready for some wrestling? WWE’s ‘Raw’ marks 25 years

WWE flagship show is set to mark its 25th anniversary on Monday

B.C. woman who forged husband’s will gets house arrest

Princeton Judge says Odelle Simmons did not benefit from her crime

Snow warning in effect for the Coquihalla

A snowfall warning is in effect from Hope to Merritt as slush and snow is expected on highways this weekend

Vancouver hoping free public Wi-Fi expansion will drive tourism dollars

Mayor Gregor Robertson says expansion bolsters its “leading Smart City” status

Women’s movement has come a long way since march on Washington: Activists

Vancouver one of several cities hosting event on anniversary of historic Women’s March on Washington

Liberals’ 2-year infrastructure plan set to take 5: documents

Government says 793 projects totalling $1.8 billion in federal funds have been granted extensions

Workers shouldn’t be used as ‘pawns’ in minimum wage fight: Wynne

Comments from Kathleen Wynne after demonstrators rallied outside Tim Hortons locations across Canada

Most Read