Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the Canadian Coast Guard responded to six Right Whale carcass sightings in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in early June but, just before the month closed, another carcass from the same endangered species was discovered.
The carcasses were sent in for necropsies and scientists now confirm that preliminary results have uncovered evidence of ship collision for at least three of the whale carcasses.
Preliminary Necropsy Results
According to preliminary findings from five of seven necropsies, three whale carcasses found on different occasions showed evidence of collision with ships. One of the bodies also showed evidence of "chronic entanglement" while another carcass was too decomposed to provide any clues about its cause of death.
Necropsy results for the two other Right whales will be revealed in six to eight weeks after a full necropsy.
True Cause Of Death And Right Whale Conservation Efforts
The experts are still unsure whether the trauma suffered by the whales from man-made objects is the true cause of death, despite evidence of collision and entanglement.
This is because scientists also suspect toxic algae could have affected the right whales and contributed to their eventual demise.
"We know that red algae affects co-ordination ... It can have a numbing effect and make them more susceptible to collisions," Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network's Josiane Cabana said.
Regardless of red algae effect, however, both United States and Canada have urged shipping lines to reduce their speed in areas where right whales have been sighted.
The NOAA currently requires [PDF] marine vessels 19.8 m or greater to reduce their speed to 10 knots or less in right whale migration, feeding, birthing, and calving areas.
The Ontario government, on the other hand, partially closed a snow crab fishing area where right whales have been frequenting and published other precautionary measures to lessen the impact on the species.
Other Government Response
North Atlantic right whales are considered endangered species and experts believe there are only about 360 to 500 individuals from the species left so seven deaths in one month is truly an unprecedented loss not only for the species but for conservationists as well.
It doesn't help that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and DFO have both suspended tangled Right Whale rescue efforts following the freak and fatal accident of Joe Howlett, who died after freeing an entangled Right whale from a fishing net.
Both U.S. and Canadian governments are now conducting a safety review of its right whale entanglement rescue procedures in order to prevent the loss of another rescuer's life. One can only hope that the review process is quick because entangled whales need human intervention in order to survive the ordeal.