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US, Canada To Team Up To Find Out What Is Killing Whales

26 August 2017, 5:40 am EDT By Athena Chan Tech Times
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Rare white whale calf spotted on drone footage
This year alone, 13 North Atlantic right whales have already died. Right whales suffered a bad year with the die-offs and low birth rates.  ( National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration )

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) along with Fisheries and Oceans Canada are declaring the death of 13 North Atlantic right whales this year as an "unusual mortality event." The agencies from two countries are teaming up to investigate the deaths of the endangered whales.

'Unusual Mortality Event'

This year, 13 North Atlantic right whales have already been found dead in Canada and United States waters. In the month of June alone, six whales were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, prompting biologists to conduct an investigation.

While 13 whale deaths do not seem like a lot of deaths at first glance, it is worth noting that North Atlantic right whales are endangered creatures with only about 500 of them still living. What's more, to have a significant number of them die off in a single year is unprecedented and seriously damaging to their already-dwindling population.

As such, the NOAA has declared the deaths as an "unusual mortality event," which is used to describe a significant die-off of any marine mammal species that requires an immediate response.

NOAA, Fisheries And Oceans Canada Collaborate

Because of the unusual die-off among the right whales, the NOAA and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are joining forces to find out just what is killing these whales. Representatives from both agencies state that fishing gear entanglement as well as ship collisions or boat strikes contributed to the deaths.

The main goal of the investigations is to look into the deaths of the whales and to promptly respond with the appropriate actions.

"Every factor impacting their ability to thrive is significant," said David Gouveia of the NOAA during the media teleconference on Friday, Aug. 25.

Though a budget for the investigation and report has yet to be developed, it will take months to gather data on each whale, including the factors that may have contributed to the creatures' deaths such as sudden habitat and environment changes.

Protecting The Whales

A single year of die-off and poor reproduction may seriously endanger the right whale population, which is why the agencies find it so relevant to look for proper solutions. It is especially important now because apart from the die-off, not many baby right whales were born this year.

According to biologist Regina Asmutis-Silvia, North Atlantic right whales have not suffered mortality rates this high since whale-hunting era.

"The priority is to protect these whales," stated Matthew Hardy of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

As such, possible prevention measures could include modifications to current fishing gear so as to prevent whale entanglement and ship speed restrictions to prevent collisions.

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