International Fund for Animal Welfare to help investigate cause of latest whale death this year
A 16th North Atlantic right whale has been found dead off the coast of Massachusetts, the International Fund for Animal Welfare says.
The organization announced late Monday that the right whale was found dead on Nashawena Island, south of Cape Cod.
There are only about 450 North Atlantic right whales left in the world, and the 16 whale deaths just this year have alarmed those trying to protect the endangered mammals.
The whale found off the U.S. coast was very decomposed, said the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which plans to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine the cause of death.
"Time is of the essence and we must work together to determine how to best protect this critically endangered species."
Over the weekend, whale researchers met in Halifax to discuss the critically endangered marine mammals being found dead this year in waters off eastern Canada and the United States.
Scientists, fishermen, large-vessel operators and Indigenous groups will also be meeting next month in Moncton in an effort to reduce the number of right whale deaths.
That meeting will be hosted by federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
Many of this year's whale deaths have been caused by collisions with vessels. Other right whales have become entangled in fishing gear.
The animals appear off the East Coast in the spring and summer to feed.
They are called right whales because they were considered by whalers to be the "right" whales to hunt — they floated when killed and produced high amounts of whale oil. As a result, their population was decimated in the whaling era.
The Canadian government has taken steps to reduce the risk to right whales by bringing in measures that include reducing the speed limit in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and shutting down a snow crab fishery early.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration review of right whales says they are experiencing low reproduction, declining abundance and changes in the availability of food.
The five-year review included recommendations to protect the species, such as developing a long-term plan for monitoring the population trends and habitat use, and studying the impact of commercial fishing on right whales.
Other recommendations include prioritizing funding of acoustic, aerial and ship surveys of right whales and evaluating whether it might be necessary to modify existing protections such as ship speed rules.
"This most recent decline and the large number of deaths in 2017 are a serious concern, and reminds us that we still have a long way to go to bring this population back to the point at which it is considered recovered," the U.S. agency said in a statement last week.