The carcass of an 11-metre long North Atlantic right whale has been spotted off the U.S. East Coast, making it the third specimen of the endangered species to be found dead this year.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that one of its vessels, the Henry B. Bigelow, reported a whale carcass on Oct. 14, after finding it approximately 160 kilometres east of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.
NOAA experts have since confirmed it to be a North Atlantic right whale — a sub-adult male judging by its size.
The organization says the carcass is severely decomposed, with photographs showing multiple wounds consistent with entanglement and human interaction. However, NOAA says that it is too early to speculate on the cause of death.
The organization has since dispatched scientists and members of the U.S. Coast Guard from Cape Cod.
On Tuesday the team was able to locate the carcass and take additional samples which will allow them to identify and learn more about the animal.
At least 18 right whales were killed in Canadian and U.S. waters in 2017 and experts estimate that there are approximately 450 of the whales left.
Two other whale deaths have been confirmed in 2018; one in January and one in August.
NOAA says it believes there are only 100 females of breeding age in the population and more females appear to be dying than males.
No carcasses have been found in Canadian waters this year but multiple whales have been spotted in the Bay of Fundy.
Since 2017, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has taken action to limit the number of whales that become entangled in fishing gear — one of the possible causes for the recent spate of deaths.
There have been speed limits imposed on vessels in some areas, there are new regulations on the use and identification of fishing gear, and a number of fishing zones have seen temporary closures as a result of whales spotted in the area.