5th North Atlantic right whale found dead, speed limits imposed in Gulf of St. Lawrence

Another dead North Atlantic right whale has been found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this week, bringing the total confirmed deaths to five this year, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The latest discovery was along Anticosti Island in Quebec. 

Transport Canada has now implemented an interim, precautionary speed restriction of 10 knots, for vessels of 20 metres or more in length travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence, in two designated shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island.

The department said the new measure is effective immediately.

“We are currently working closely with our marine mammal response partners to assess necropsy options,” the federal agency said in a statement Thursday evening.

“The government of Canada takes this matter very seriously and we understand the significance of this issue.”

More whales found dead

On June 25, two dead right whales were found floating in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The female, known as Catalog, was on the cusp of sexual maturity and had yet to give birth, according to the New England Aquarium.

The aquarium said Catalog was born in 2008 and sighted every year since, usually in Cape Cod Bay off the Massachusetts coast. She was first spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2017 and returned the following the two years.

She had been entangled in fishing gear on four separate occasions.

The fourth dead North Atlantic right whale discovered in Canadian waters this year was identified as an 11-year-old female on the cusp of sexual maturity. (Candace Borutskie/Anderson Cabot Center at the New England Aquarium.)

The dead male, believed to be at least 33 years old, was named Comet for a long scar on his right side. He was an “old favourite” of researchers, and fathered a daughter in 1990. Comet became a grandfather in 2013.

The aquarium said visible scarring indicated he had been involved in three minor entanglements. 

One whale was found west of the Magdalen Islands and the other off the Acadian Peninsula.

Meanwhile, on June 19, there was also a discovery of a dead 38-year-old female, known as Punctuation. Preliminary necropsy results are compatible to sharp trauma, consistent with vessel strike, said Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The final detailed results of the necropsy will be available in the coming months.

Researchers have also said Punctuation had been entangled in fishing nets five times and struck by ships twice in her lifetime. 

Punctuation the right whale, seen from the rear, was towed to Cape Breton for examination on Tuesday. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

A nine-year-old male, known as Wolverine, was also found dead on June 4.

An assessment came back inconclusive, but fisheries officials said the death did not appear to be caused by a vessel strike or entanglement in fishing gear.

Wolverine, a nine-year-old north Atlantic right whale, was the first whale death reported in 2019. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC)

There are believed to be 413 North Atlantic right whales left worldwide.

No right whales were recorded dying in Canadian waters last year, but 12 were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2017.

Necropsies on seven of them found four died from trauma consistent with vessel collisions, while two deaths were the result of entanglement in fishing gear.

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