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Environment and Outdoors

Death Of Another Right Whale Off Cape Cod Heightens Concern About Imperiled Species

Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard
via Bangor Daily News
The corpse of a North Atlantic right whale was found Oct. 23, 2017 on Nashawena Island off Cape Cod.

Another dead North Atlantic right whale has been found off Cape Cod, bringing the confirmed killings of the endangered animals this year to 16.

This year is believed to be the deadliest for the whales since they were actively hunted for their oil centuries ago. Even though whaling has been banned for decades, only about 450 right whales are believed to live in the North Atlantic ocean today.

The whale’s badly decomposed corpse was found Monday on Nashawena Island, southwest of Cape Cod, and reported to officials. It is the fourth found off Cape Cod this year.

A spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed the death Tuesday. Massachusetts-based International Fund for Animal Welfare is examining the whale, with NOAA’s approval, to try to determine a cause of death, she said in an email.

Twelve of the right whale deaths occurred this summer in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada, where the snow crab pot fishery has been linked to whale entanglements. Some of the dead whales also have shown signs of ship strikes.

The first-ever recorded killing of a person by an entangled whale also occurred this summer. Lobsterman Joe Howlett, who lived just across the Maine border from Lubec on the New Brunswick island of Campobello, died July 10 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence when a right whale’s tail struck him moments after he disentangled the whale from fishing lines.

The whale deaths concern both conservationists who worry about the future of the species and Maine lobstermen, who in recent years were required to make expensive changes to how they fish in order to decrease the chances of whales getting entangled in their trap lines. Fishermen have expressed concerned about possible new regulations that could make their jobs more difficult and affect their livelihoods.

The number of right whales in the North Atlantic is believed to have fallen since since 2010, after two decades of slowly increasing. The latest population estimate of 458 animals doesn’t include the deaths so far in 2017.

Between 1990 and 2010, the number of right whales had expanded by more than 78 percent — from 270 to 482 — but now has shrunk by nearly 5 percent.

This story appears through a media sharing agreement with Bangor Daily News.