MONCTON, N.B. -- Two more dead North Atlantic right whales have been spotted off the east coast, bringing to eight the number of the endangered whales to die this year in Canadian waters, federal officials said Friday.
One of the dead whales was first observed Thursday by an aerial surveillance flight drifting west of the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a news release.
It was located Friday by a vessel in the area, and a necropsy is scheduled to take place Sunday.
Also Friday, the body of a second dead right whale was sighted off Glace Bay, N.S., according to the fisheries department.
The whale was originally reported on June 24, 2019 by a fisherman, but fisheries vessels could not find it to confirm it was in fact a North Atlantic right whale.
The exact date, location, and cause of the whales' deaths is not known. It is believed the population of the endangered species currently stands at around 400 animals.
"Neither of these whales have yet been individually identified," the department said in a news release, adding that the government "takes this issue very seriously."
The statement said federal officials have "spent over 1,150 hours in the air monitoring North Atlantic right whales in Atlantic Canada since April -- with five or more aircraft flying over the waters of Atlantic Canada on any given day in search for whales."
Federal fishery officers and the Canadian Coast Guard are currently on a three-day search, combing the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence for lost fishing gear in an effort to protect the endangered animals. Reporting lost fishing gear has been a licence requirement for all fixed-gear fisheries in the Gulf of St. Lawrence since 2018.
Necropsies have confirmed that three of the previous right whale deaths this year were due to vessel strikes.
Scientists and environmental activists say North Atlantic right whales are under high levels of stress because they often come into contact with ships or get entangled in fishing gear.
Earlier this month, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans dispatched rescuers to try and free three North Atlantic right whales that were entangled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off Miscou Island, New Brunswick. That operation continued this week.
No right whales died in Canadian waters last year, but 12 were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2017.