Souther Right Whale
Six North Atlantic Right whales were found dead recently in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Three were brought to P.E.I. for examination. Preliminary findings indicate at least one suffered from fishing gear entanglement, while blunt force trauma is suspected in the other two.

It will likely be several more weeks before a determination can be made on the cause of death for six North Atlantic Right whales found dead in the waters just off western Prince Edward Island.

Over the Canada Day weekend, three of the whales were towed to a secluded beach in Norway, near the Island’s western tip, so necropsies could be performed on the animals. A statement from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) notes the advanced state of decomposition for the other three whales made necropsies impossible to perform.

Approximately 30 people assisted with the necropsies, including DFO experts, the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative-Atlantic Veterinary College, the Université de Montréal, the Marine Animal Response Society, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the Marine Mammal Commission, the N.B. Museum, Dalhousie University and the provincial governments of Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island.

“DFO is waiting for complete results, which can take six to eight weeks as scientists await results from testing on the tissue samples obtained during the necropsies,” the DFO notes. “The department will finalize its comprehensive review of the situation before publicly discussing any factors that may have contributed to the mortalities. Once this information is available, the department will share it with the public.”

The department statement goes on to say, “DFO takes the protection and conservation of endangered species very seriously, and is concerned by the deaths of such an important species. The department is committed to doing everything possible to understand what happened to these whales so that preventable whale deaths can be avoided in the future.”

However, the department cautions it’s too early to discuss possible management measure changes. Until recent years, North Atlantic Right whales were not normally seen in the Gulf and the department needs to consider changes to their seasonal behaviour before determining what conservation measures may be needed.

Meanwhile, the department is also trying to determine the cause of death for a fin whale that was in the same general area as the six North Atlantic Right whales.