Another North Atlantic right whale reported dead off coast of Virginia

The first death this year of a North Atlantic right whale has been reported off the coast of Virginia.

At least 17 of the endangered whales died in Canadian and U.S. waters in 2017.  

There were few details about the latest whale report, but Jennifer Goebel, a spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Thursday that the U.S. agency is trying to gather more information.

Necropsies on seven of the carcasses found last year determined four whales died of blunt force trauma from collisions with ships, and the other three likely died from entanglements in fishing gear.

Earlier this week, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced changes to the snow crab fishery in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence to protect the North Atlantic right whale from entanglement.

The changes include reducing the number of fishing rope floating on the surface and mandatory reporting of all lost gear. The government also said it will most likely impose speed restrictions for vessels again this year, when the whales return to the gulf.

Entangled North Atlantic right whale

This female North Atlantic right whale found in the Gulf of St Lawrence on Sept. 15 was deemed a case of ‘severe entanglement’ by the federal Fisheries Department. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Last summer, Transport Canada imposed a mandatory 10-knot speed limit in the western part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence for vessels 20 metres or longer to help reduce the risk of whale strikes, while also improving the chances of survival for any whales struck.

Other pending crab fishery measures relate to the number of traps that will be permitted this season and the possibility of using Coast Guard ice-breakers to start the season sooner.

During a news concerns in Moncton, LeBlanc said the new management measures were effective immediately and others will be announced in coming weeks and months.  

Measures being taken in U.S.

Meanwhile, in the United States, conservation and animal-protection groups launched a lawsuit last week against the National Marine Fisheries Service in that country, alleging it failed to protect right whales from entanglement in commercial fishing gear.

Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director for the U.S. Center for Biological Diversity, said more needs to be done to prevent whale deaths and injuries.

“It’s just absolutely devastating to hear that and yet another reason on a very long list as to why the United States and the Canadian government need to take very strong and immediate action to reduce risk to right whales,” she said Thursday.

Monsell applauded the Canadian government for its latest steps to protect the right whales, she said more needs to be done.

“They don’t go nearly far enough and we are hoping to see more mandatory changes.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleges the federal management of the U.S. lobster fishery violates the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. 

Estimates of the number of North Atlantic right whales left in the world range from 450 to 500.

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