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Right whales could go extinct, American officials warn

Canada and the U.S. need to examine ship speed, fishing gear and climate change, report says

by Hilary Beaumont
Dec 11 2017, 4:11pm

North Atlantic right whales could go extinct soon if Canada and the U.S. don’t act quickly, American officials are warning, emphasizing that 17 whales have died this year alone out of a population of fewer than 500.

Some of that action should include working with the Canadian government to assess ship speed and fishing gear regulations, and research into how climate change is affecting right whale migration, breeding and habitat, a five-year study released in late October says.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a U.S.-government linked research group, raised the alarm last week about threats to the endangered species, the Associated Press reported Monday.

“The current status of the right whales is a critical situation, and using our available resources to recover right whales is of high importance and high urgency,” NOAA Endangered Species Act consultant Mary Murray-Brown said during a meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council last week, according to AP.

‘RED FLAGS’

The whale deaths have been linked to ship speed and fishing gear regulations, along with the impacts of climate change on right whale migration, breeding and habitat, according to an October study from U.S. government agency the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

Through the summer and fall, the bloated bodies of right whales have been spotted floating off the east coast of Canada and the U.S., from Cape Cod to Newfoundland. Successful necropsies, or whale autopsies, have shown many of the animals are dying after being hit by ships or becoming tangled in fishing gear.

To make matters worse, 2017 has been a bad reproduction year for the whales, with only 100 mating females left, AP reported.

American officials are not the only ones raising the alarm. Canadian whale researchers, First Nations leaders and government officials held a meeting in New Brunswick in early November to discuss potential solutions, and Canadian scientists have called the deaths a “red flag.”

“Something absolutely must be done, and now”

“Something absolutely must be done, and now,” Tonya Wimmer, director of the Marine Animal Response Society, told VICE News in late October. “It’s not that we can sit and plan for it for another five or six years.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) said in its five-year report released in October that officials should hire more staff focused on whale recovery, and track the whales more closely.

Officials in Canada and the U.S. “should prioritize research on understanding the effects of climate change” on whale migration, breeding and habitat, the report said.

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