Shipping, fishing killed Canada right whales: autopsy
By Agence France-Presse
Collisions with ships or entanglements in fishing nets likely killed the 15 right whales that recently washed up on Canadian and US Atlantic shores, researchers said Thursday after an examination of their remains.
The necropsies were performed on only six of the animals and a seventh continues.
But the team of researchers from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative was confident that further study would point to the same causes of death in the others.
Since June, a dozen right whales have been found dead in Canadian waters in an area of high marine and shipping traffic and extensive commercial fishing. Three more were later discovered off the coast of New England in the United States.
Five of the examined whales appeared to have died of blunt force trauma, but advanced decomposition of one of them made a definitive determination impossible, while a sixth whale drowned after being entangled in fishing gear.
“Human activities are a very important cause of this mortality this summer,” wildlife pathologist Pierre-Yves Daoust told a briefing.
In the cases of blunt force trauma, he pointed to “shearing of some of the (whales’) internal organs like liver, like heart, major blood vessels which cause severe internal hemorrhaging, (and) severe internal bleeding.”
The North Atlantic right whale population numbers fewer than 500, so these deaths had a major impact on the endangered species.
“This makes this pretty much the deadliest year we’ve seen since the days of whaling,” said Tonya Wimmer, director of the Marine Animal Response Society.
Canada has imposed a 10-knot speed limit in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence where several of the mammals died, and restricted fishing in several parts.
It also started tracking the whale pods using underwater acoustic equipment and surveillance flights.
In response to the report, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Transport Minister Marc Garneau said in a joint statement: “We are committed to doing what is necessary to help keep our right whales from harm, and we are considering all options in order to protect this iconic species.”