ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- A research scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says the discovery of nine dead whales off Newfoundland earlier this month is a significant loss to the endangered species.

Jack Lawson says it's believed the adult blue whales either drowned or were crushed by heavy ice while feeding off the island's southwest coast.

Lawson says the carcasses were found April 4 strewn in a line about 64 kilometres from the coast.

Since then, Lawson says two whale carcasses were spotted last Tuesday in the Strait of Belle Isle and four more on the weekend in the Bonne Bay area, but he suspects they are the among the original nine whales.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence has been choked this winter by ice so thick that Lawson says coast guard icebreakers have been getting caught, and there's little that can be done to protect the whales.

Lawson says the Atlantic population of the species is endangered, with only about 250 mature blue whales remaining in waters off eastern Canada.