U.S., Canada to probe deaths of rare whale
Portland, Maine — Marine authorities in the U.S. and Canada said Friday they will marshal resources to try to find out what’s behind a string of deaths of endangered North Atlantic right whales.
The animals are among the rarest marine mammals in the world, with only about 500 still living. The countries will collaborate on a report that could help craft future regulations that protect the vulnerable whales, representatives said.
Representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Fisheries and Oceans Canada both said ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear have played roles in the deaths of the whales, and that other factors also could have played a role.
The goal of the countries is to find out more about why 13 of the whales have been found dead this year and respond with solutions, said David Gouveia, protected species monitoring program branch chief for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region.
“The North Atlantic right whale is fragile, and one of NOAA and DFO’s most difficult conservation challenges,” Gouveia said. “Every factor impacting their ability to thrive is significant.”
This year, 10 dead whales have been found off of Canada’s coast and three off the coast of Massachusetts, prompting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare the deaths an “unusual mortality event” on Thursday and to launch an investigation.
The report will take months to assemble, and a budget for the investigation has not been developed, officials said. The effort will involve collecting data on each whale that died and considering factors such as changes to the environment and habitat, they said.
An average number of dead right whales would be about four, Gouveia said.
Conservationists have said the right whale population is so small that a year of poor reproduction and heavy mortality could threaten its survival.