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North Atlantic Right Whale Population Dips Below 450 After ‘Deadliest Year’ Since Whaling Era

Fifteen North Atlantic

right whales

—one of the

most endangered

of all large

whales

—have already died this year in U.S. and Canadian waters, according to researchers.

“This makes it pretty much the deadliest year we’ve seen for North Atlantic right whales since the days of whaling,” Tonya Wimmer, director of Canada’s

Marine Animal Response Society

, told the

Toronto Star

.


The population of North Atlantic right whales previously stood at 458 but that was before this year’s deaths, Scott Kraus, vice president and chief scientist at the

Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life

at the New England Aquarium, explained to the

New York Times

. Only five calves were born this year.

This means there are now fewer than 450 North Atlantic right whales left on the planet.

Unfortunately, new research shows that many of these whales died because of human-related activity.

According to recent

study

, Incident Report: North Atlantic Right Whale Mortality Event in the Gulf of St. Lawrence 2017, necropsies on seven of the whales showed that four had died of blunt force trauma from ship collisions and two died of

entanglement

. The cause of death for the seventh whale was inconclusive.

The population of North Atlantic right whales has declined from 482 in 2010 to 458 in 2015, and entanglement is a

major threat

to the slow-moving creatures. A

study

published last year found that from 2010 to 2015, 15 percent of right whale deaths were caused by vessel strikes, while 85 percent were caused by entanglements.

A whale trapped in tangled fishing gear such as ropes and nets can suffer and ultimately die from a grisly death, as it can

lead to

drowning, laceration, infection and starvation.

Conservation groups are demanding immediate action from the U.S. and Canadian governments to protect the at-risk marine animals and have recently

sent legal notices

to Canadian officials and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

“Right whales risk spiraling toward extinction if we don’t protect them from deadly fishing gear,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the

Center for Biological Diversity

. “This has been a tragic year for a species already teetering on the brink. U.S. and Canadian officials need to do everything they can to prevent gear entanglements and the slow, painful deaths they can cause.”

Anna Frostic, senior wildlife attorney for

The Humane Society

, said that NMFS “is mandated to protect endangered marine mammals like the North Atlantic right whale.”

“Unfortunately, NMFS is failing to perform its duties under federal law, causing devastating impacts to this critically endangered species,” Frostic concluded.

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