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October 10, 2017

Ottawa studying next steps after report on summer's North Atlantic whale deaths

The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative released a report last week titled "Incident Report: North Atlantic Right Whale Mortality Event in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, 2017," which includes findings from necropsies performed this summer on six of the dead North Atlantic Right Whales.

The results indicated that one right whale died from fishing gear entanglement and that four whales died from severe blunt force trauma. One other necropsy, still to be concluded, also indicated signs of fishing entanglement, while another whale necropsy was inconclusive but had signs of trauma. The report stated that necropsy findings of trauma and entanglement coincide with high level of fisheries and maritime traffic in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Pathologists said the necropsies could not determine what kind of vessel may have been involved, the size or speed it would have been travelling.

In a joint statement, Minister of Fisheries Dominic LeBlanc and Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said: "We will continue to monitor the migration of the whales and the efficiency of our measures in order to act accordingly, based on evidence. We are committed to doing what is necessary to help keep our right whales from harm, and we are considering all options in order to protect this iconic species."

Bruce Burrows, President of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, said: "The necropsy results have indicated that there are many potential factors contributing to the troubling deaths of right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and that more scientific research is required. We welcome Minister Leblanc's recent commitment to substantially increase the amount of aerial and on-the-water surveillance to develop better real-time data on the whales' movements."

Mr. Burrows continued: There are many questions that still need to be answered that will help both the government and industry develop more effective measures to protect the whales while minimizing the economic impacts on Canadians."

Sources: Transport Canada & Chamber of Marine Commerce