A half-dozen North Atlantic right whales have died in the past month, leading scientists, government officials, and conservationists to call for a swift response to protect the endangered species, per the AP. There are only a little more than 400 of the right whales left. All six of the dead whales have been found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off Canada, and at least three appear to have died after they were hit by ships. The deaths have led scientists to sound the alarm about a potentially catastrophic loss to the population, and calls for better enforcement of rules such as speed limits for ships in certain areas. The deaths are especially troubling because they include females, said Philip Hamilton, research scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium.
"If we're going to have deaths, they just can't be female," Hamilton said, adding the population is down to only about 100 reproductive females. Right whales have suffered high mortality and poor reproduction in recent years, particularly in 2017. The whales appear to be traveling in different areas of the ocean than usual because of food availability, says Nick Record of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine. That shift, linked to the warming of the ocean, has apparently brought whales outside protected zones. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said the necropsy of the sixth whale was completed in Quebec, and the death appeared consistent with blunt trauma from a vessel strike. Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are two top threats to right whales often cited by conservationists. (Elsewhere, Japan has resumed commercial whale hunts.)