Two new cases of dead right whales have been confirmed today by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. According to the ministry, a seventh right whale was spotted drifting in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on July 18 during an aerial flight conducted west of the Magdalen Islands. It was towed by the Canadian Coast Guard on July 19 for a comprehensive necropsy. Analysis of the carcass is scheduled to take place on July 21 in the Gaspé Peninsula town of Grand-Étang in hopes of documenting what may have happened to the animal. As of now, the individual has not yet been identified.

On July 19, another whale carcass was spotted. In fact, this carcass had been reported by a fisherman on June 24, but it was not possible to locate it and identify the species with certainty. The advanced state of decomposition will not allow for necropsy. With this discovery, this year’s tally of right whale carcasses is now up to eight.

North Atlantic right whales are an endangered population. The loss of more than 1% of the population in a single season worries researchers. The Government of Canada recently announced reinforcements to its collision and entanglement prevention measures. Since Thursday, fishery officers have been working with the Coast Guard to remove fishing gear (ropes, traps, buoys, etc.) lost by fishermen in an effort to prevent other whales from getting caught.

In recent weeks, three right whales have been spotted entangled in fishing gear. Entanglements can cause significant whale injuries, impair their ability to move or feed, exhaust them, and even drown them if the weight of the ropes is too heavy. In the long term, entanglement can also reduce a whale’s ability to reproduce.

On July 16,  the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, assisted by crews from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was able to resume its attempts to rescue two out of three entangled right whales. The two whales were able to be relieved of their material, but only partially. The Government of Canada, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is continuing its aerial surveillance to document the presence of right whales in Canadian waters and to identify entangled whales for the purpose of assisting them.

Diving a little deeper…

Right Whales: Situation in 2019 (Whales Online)

Right Whale Research in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (field notes of the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, July 10, 2019)

News - 22/7/2019

Marie-Ève Muller

Marie-Ève Muller is responsible for GREMM's communications and spokeperson for the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergencies Response Network (QMMERN). As Editor-in-Chief for Whales Online, she devours research and has an insatiable thirst for the stories of scientists and observers. Drawing from her background in literature and journalism, Marie-Ève strives to put the fragile reality of cetaceans into words and images.

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