North Atlantic Right Whale death toll reaches 17


Another North Atlantic right whale has been found dead on a beach on Nantucket Island, off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This brings the number of deaths to 17 for the year in Canadian and US waters, nearly 4 percent of the total right whale population, which currently sits at fewer than 500 individuals.

The carcass was discovered on Nov. 27 and was identified as a North Atlantic right whale by its distinctive flippers, which decompose at a slower rate than the rest of the body. “We try to be as conservative as possible when saying that a new carcass has been identified,” Marianna Hagbloom, a research assistant with the Anderson Cabot Center in Boston, told the CBC. “And so, we are announcing this assumption that we’re making, but we wouldn’t have done that lightly.”

New marine mammal regulations

The right whale population was the focus of a meeting held in Moncton on Nov. 9, where Fisheries Minister Dominic Leblanc, along with scientists, fishermen, large vessel operators and Indigenous groups worked towards solutions to reduce the number of whales washing up on shorelines.

“Scientific research can and must necessarily take some time, and in the case of protecting the North Atlantic right whales, time is not necessarily on our side,” LeBlanc told the conference during his opening remarks. He said he would soon be releasing new marine mammal regulations that will include a 100-metre buffer zone for vessels.

Many of the whales this year died of blunt force trauma after being struck by boats, while other deaths were the cause of fishing gear entanglements. Future solutions could include new fishing gear that uses less rope, or rope that can easily be broken by the whales.

LeBlanc said the government will look at every option possible to protect the whales, including making the speed limit imposed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this summer permanent, enacting new regulations on fishing gear, or changing crab fishing dates to ensure equipment is removed before the whales migrate to the Gulf.

Baykeeper called for mandatory slow-down, complete review of shipping lanes

Since the first right whale carcasses were discovered in June, our Fundy Baykeeper, Matt Abbott, has worked with stakeholders to help find solutions to the unprecedented die-off. The Baykeeper has called on the federal government to keep the mandatory slow-down zone for vessels, conduct a complete review of fishing lanes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and made it easy for people to write Minister LeBlanc to voice their support for urgent action to protect and restore the North Atlantic Right Whale population.

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