Concern and mystery surrounding the deaths of North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence continues to rise on Canada’s East Coast.
“We haven’t seen 10 mortalities in two months ever in this population. So why now? Why in this area?” said Kim Davies, a post-doctoral fellow at Dalhousie University and member of an ocean science team that monitors right whales.
The discovery brings the total number of North Atlantic Right Whale deaths up to at least 10, an unprecedented number that brings concern to the ocean science community.
“They’re endangered under the Canada Species at Risk Act (SARA). There are around 500 animals left and over the past several years, calving rates have been very low in the population, the sightings of right whales in their traditional feeding habitats have declined,” Davies said.
Part of the work Davies does involves tracking the migratory patterns of North Atlantic right whales, using underwater gliders, or drones.
WATCH: There have been more sad discoveries in Atlantic Canada, where the death toll of right whales continues to rise. As Ross Lord reports, there is an urgent effort underway to understand what’s killing them.
“It’s incredibly important to persistently monitor these animals in areas where they may be at risk,” she said.
One of the underwater gliders is currently deployed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where it’s monitoring the whales using an underwater microphone.
The real time data can be used to inform and manage shipping traffic in the area.
“The biggest sources of mortality for right whales that we know of are ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements. About 80 per cent of the population has entanglement scars,” Davies said.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada is taking samples from the whale carcasses found, in hopes of being able to identify and further understand what’s causing the deaths.
DFO has also taken safeguard measures to prevent further potential deaths by closing the snow crab fishing area in the southern Gulf of St. Lawerence.
The closure includes the removal of all fishing gear from the water.
Notices have also been sent out to the commercial fishing industry to report any whale sightings.