Another North Atlantic right whale found dead off coast of Massachusetts
An endangered North Atlantic right whale that was found lifeless in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is being towed for a post-mortem examination in this file photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Marine Animal Response Society)
Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, October 24, 2017 8:30AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 24, 2017 10:43AM EDT
Yet another North Atlantic right whale carcass has been discovered, the sixteenth confirmed death of the endangered species this year.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare said Tuesday the carcass was found on Nashawena Island, south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
"It appears to be a younger animal ... so the likelihood of it being a natural or normal death is not high," said Misty Niemeyer, a whale biologist with the fund.
The group said there have been 16 confirmed North Atlantic right whale deaths this year off the coasts of Canada and the U.S., most of those in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
The animal welfare organization said the latest carcass was "very decomposed," but it is working alongside the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine the cause of death.
Niemeyer was heading out on a vessel Tuesday to examine the whale to see what the cause of death may have been.
"Even if it was natural, there are way too many dead animals in one year and it's very concerning to us," said Niemeyer.
"This is very disturbingly high number of deaths and low number of births in one year."
Hundreds gathered in Halifax over the weekend for the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium's annual meeting, where the deaths were described as a dire blow to the endangered species' survival.
Presenters spoke with a renewed sense of urgency to protect the roughly 450 right whales still alive as of 2016, according to the latest population estimate, which does not account for this year's losses.
The consortium has announced plans to form an international working group to address the right whale "mortality crisis."
Many of the whale deaths have been attributed to vessel strikes and getting tangled in fishing gear.
The Canadian government has taken steps to reduce the risk to right whales by bringing in measures including reducing the speed limit in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and shutting down a snow crab fishery.
Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc is set to meet with scientists, members of industry, Indigenous groups and other interested parties in Moncton, N.B., to discuss the right whale deaths.
A U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration review of the species states that right whales are experiencing low reproduction, declining abundance and changes in the availability of food.
The five-year review includes recommendations to protect the species, such as developing a long-term plan for monitoring the population trends and habitat use, and studying the impact of commercial fishing on right whales.
Other recommendations include prioritizing funding of acoustic, aerial and ship surveys of right whales and evaluating whether it might be necessary to modify existing protections such as ship speed rules.
The U.S. agency said in a statement last week that "this most recent decline and the large number of deaths in 2017 are a serious concern, and reminds us that we still have a long way to go to bring this population back to the point at which it is considered recovered."
The animals appear off the U.S. and Canadian coasts in the spring and summer to feed. They are called right whales because they were considered by whalers to be the "right" whales to hunt -- they floated when killed and produced high amounts of whale oil. As a result, their population was decimated in the whaling era.
With files from The Associated Press and Michael Tutton in Halifax