'Unusual mortality event' blamed for death of 17 North Atlantic right whales

12 December 2017

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has blamed an ''unusual mortality event'' for the death of 17 North Atlantic right whales this year, an endangered species.

The North Atlantic right white whale faced extinction in about 20 years if no action is taken to save it. NOAA's Endangered Species Act consultant Mark Murray-Brown, speaking at last week's New England Fishery Management Council Meeting, called on US and Canadian authorities to work with commercial fisheries to protect the endangered whales. If they do not, he warned that the majestic whales which could grow up to 150,000 pounds and to almost 15 metres in length would disappear.

With only 100 breeding females of the species left on earth, the population of the whales in the wild remains a matter of concern as they get constantly entangled in fishing gear and get hit by vessels. Six of the 17 dead whales were killed by blunt force trauma from collisions with ships. Another five whales were freed from fishing traps this year, but two of them have since died.

"You do have to use the extinction word, because that's where the trend lines say they are," said John Bullard, the Northeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

However, the good news is that efforts to change commercial fishing methods have proven effective in protecting the whales. In 2009, North American fisheries were sunk 27,000 miles of floating lines deep in the water in and effort to prevent such entanglements, and in 2014 nearly 3,000 more miles of fishing lines were removed from North American waters altogether. ''We recognize and appreciate that the fishing industry has made many sacrifices to drastically reduce the number of lines in the water column, reducing the risk of serious injuries and mortalities to whales,'' noted Murray-Brown in his presentation.

Murray-Brown is hopeful that the extinction can be prevented with further improvement in the management of commercial fishing methods and making fishing gear even safer for right whales.

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