‘Mor­tal­ity dis­as­ter’

Gulf of St. Lawrence whale deaths on a scale likely not seen since whal­ing dec­i­mated their pop­u­la­tion in the 19th cen­tury: sci­en­tist

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - THE ISLAND - With files from The As­so­ci­ated Press

The deaths of six right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are a “mor­tal­ity dis­as­ter” on a scale likely not seen since whal­ing dec­i­mated their pop­u­la­tion in the 19th cen­tury, an Amer­i­can sci­en­tist says.

Mark Baum­gart­ner of the Woods Hole Oceano­graphic In­sti­tute on Cape Cod said the June deaths should be a call for hu­mans to do more to pro­tect the an­i­mals when pos­si­ble.

“With such a small and de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tion, right whales have lit­tle ca­pac­ity to deal with both nat­u­ral and hu­man­caused mor­tal­ity si­mul­ta­ne­ously,” he said.

North At­lantic right whales are among the most en­dan­gered large mam­mals on Earth, with only about 500 still alive. Six were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence near Que­bec’s Mag­dalen Is­lands in June.

“For a small pop­u­la­tion like right whales, the dif­fer­ence be­tween pop­u­la­tion growth and a path to­ward ex­tinc­tion can be the mat­ter of a hand­ful of an­i­mals,” said Scott Kraus, vice-pres­i­dent and se­nior sci­ence ad­viser at the An­der­son Cabot Cen­ter for Ocean Life at the New Eng­land Aquar­ium in Bos­ton.

A necropsy was con­ducted Thurs­day on a male whale that was first spot­ted on June 18, and ma­rine mam­mal ex­perts carved up a sec­ond car­cass Fri­day on a Prince Ed­ward Is­land beach. Of­fi­cials want to de­ter­mine if boat strikes, fish­ing gear or a pos­si­ble toxic al­gal bloom could be to blame for the whales’ deaths. The au­top­sies are be­ing done in Nor­way, a tiny ham­let near P.E.I.’s north­west­ern tip not far from Tig­nish.

Fed­eral fish­eries of­fi­cials said late Fri­day that the re­mains of an­other species of whale, a dead fin whale, was dis­cov­ered near Prince Ed­ward Is­land by a re­cent aerial pa­trol. The cause of death is not known and of­fi­cials were try­ing to de­ter­mine the next step.

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