North Atlantic Right Whales Found Dead in Canadian Waters This Month

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In 2017, 12 North American right whales were found dead in Canadian waters and five in US waters.

Officials with Fisheries and Oceans Canada say two more endangered North Atlantic right whales have been found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

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As an example, he pointed to a 40-year-old female whale named Punctuation, whose carcass was spotted off Iles-de-la-Madeleine last week.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) confirmed late Wednesday that a right whale was found dead on the shores of Anticosti Island near the Gulf of St. Lawrence. "You need to look at what's going on and what the distribution is", she said in an interview Thursday.

She said the first whale was a nine-year-old male named Wolverine and necropsy results were inconclusive.

The whales were found near the Acadian Peninsula, New Brunswick and west of the Magdalen Islands, Quebec, officials said. Parts of the gulf have been closed to fishermen, whose vertical crab or lobster lines can entangle the whales, keeping them from surfacing until they drown.

The cause of those deaths - when they could be determined - was either blunt force trauma from a suspected vessel strike or acute entanglement from fishing gear. She said the carcass was too decomposed to allow for a necropsy.

He added the speed restriction is an interim measure.

However, the government will issue a fine of up to $25,000 to those who fail to follow the speed limit, Garneau said.

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On Tuesday night, Transportation Minister Marc Garneau announced speed restrictions for two shipping lanes near Anticosti Island.

"Transport Canada continues to gather and analyze data to establish what changes, if any, should be made", he said.

"We didn't solve the problem past year and we're still in a crisis mode for dealing with this situation", he said.

Boris Worm, a biology professor and well-known whale expert at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said the sudden spate of deaths this month stands in contrast to last season, when there were no recorded deaths linked to ship strikes or entanglements.

Last year, there were no recorded deaths of right whales in Canadian waters, which was an huge relief for conservationists, given the fact that 12 right whales had died in 2017 - mostly from ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear.

The mitigation measures can be a headache for some fishermen, according to Martin Mallet, executive director of the Maritime Fishermen's Union. At least four whales have died within a span of only one week, raising concerns about whether or not there will be a high number of right whale deaths in 2019.

The vital information and findings from these necropsies on right whales are key for understanding the threats they face, and what could be done to better protect them and support their recovery, DFO officials said.

It's important to perform necropsies to understand what is killing so many right whales prematurely, so that conservationists can find ways to prevent future deaths and preserve the population.

"I fear that without greater protections, we will see the extinction of this species", she said.

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