MONTREAL – Three carcasses of one of the world’s most endangered whales found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are of great concern to scientists.
The world’s right whale population is estimated at about 450 individuals. Since June 6, three of them have been reported drifting between New Brunswick and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. These recent reports have brought the total number to six carcasses of right whales discovered since 2015 in the Gulf.
Mortality in such a short time is unprecedented in North America for the species and is of great concern to the scientific community.
“We’re talking about a high number of dead animals over a short period of time, it’s quite disturbing. There is no indication at this time to explain what happened to them,” said Josiane Cabana, director of the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network’s Call Center.
Hence the importance for scientists to trace them. They solicit the navigators to find those reported in the last weeks. They would like to take samples of individuals to understand and document their loss. For the time being, the photographs of the carcasses do not allow to speculate.
In general, scientists know that right whales are particularly susceptible to being trapped in fishing gear, or to collide with ships.
“These are animals that stay on the surface for a long time and move slowly, making them more vulnerable to these kinds of events,” said Ms. Cabana.
Difficult to find
Although the animal weighs about 60 tonnes and is about fifteen meters long, finding the carcasses to drift is a big challenge, according to the Quebec Network of Emergencies for Marine Mammals.
It was a helicopter from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and crab fishermen who made the first reports off Miscou Island. Depending on winds and currents, experts estimate that they are now northeasterly, in a place not very busy by ships.
“It feels that because they are imposing they should be easy to find, but the gulf is very wide and they are probably really in the heart, far from the coast,” said Mrs. Cabana.
If you observe a drifting whale, contact Marine Mammal Emergencies at 1-877-722-5346.