Tanker strikes leading cause of right whale deaths: report

Scientists have a clearer picture of how a record-setting number of North Atlantic right whale deaths occurred in East Coast waters this summer.

Wildlife pathologists released their necropsy results in an incident report out Oct. 5, concluding that tanker strikes were the main cause for the large number of deaths. In total, 15 right whales were found dead off the East Coast of Canada and the U.S.

The incident report includes findings from necropsies performed this summer on seven of the whales. It determined that four whales died of blunt trauma from collisions with tankers, while two appeared to die after becoming entangled in fishing gear. The cause of death for one whale was inconclusive.

Marine biologist Moira Brown told the CBC there have been three times as many whale mortalities than births this year. Only around 500 of the endangered species exist on the planet today.

Scientists, fishermen, large-vessel operators and Indigenous groups will meet in Moncton on Nov. 9 to work on finding solutions to reduce the number of right whales washing up on shorelines. Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc hosts the meeting.

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Amid the tragedy off New Brunswick’s coast, the Conservation Council called for a mandatory slow-down of tankers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  The federal government ordered tankers to slow down about a week later.

Transport Canada estimates the 10-knot speed limit has reduced whale deaths by nearly 70 per cent. If right whales are spotted in areas outside the current slow-down zone during their upcoming migration down south, the speed limit will come into effect there, as well.

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