Death of North Atlantic right whales are puzzling Canadian scientists

In this recent photo, researchers examine a dead North Atlantic right whale along the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. Scientists say six endangered North Atlantic right whales have died in Canadian waters during the past three weeks. North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered large mammals on the planet, with only about 500 of them still alive. (Marine Animal Response Society/The Canadian Press via AP)

Vastavam web: North American conservationists are scrambling to find out why North Atlantic right whales are dying in unprecedented numbers, with nine deaths in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence in two months, according to Canadian authorities.The nine deaths make 2017 the deadliest year for the endangered marine mammal since scientists began tracking their numbers in the 1980s, said Kim Davies, a Dalhousie University post-doctoral fellow who is pioneering a way to track their activity in real time.

The carcasses of the whales are so large, Wimmer and her colleagues need a backhoe to get inside the animals to perform necropsies. The whales, designated a species at risk, have been sighted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in higher-than-normal numbers this summer, Davies said, possibly because their zooplankton food source is scarcer in other habitats such as the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed some snow crab fisheries early in response to the deaths, and has asked ships in the high-traffic Gulf of St. Lawrence to voluntarily keep their speed to 10 knots or less.