Necropsy results show slow moving right whales have been hit and killed by large ships, while other have died from fishing gear entanglement

Necropsy results show slow moving right whales have been hit and killed by large ships, while other have died from fishing gear entanglement
Photo Credit: Kara Mahoney Robinson/New England Aquarium)

Necropsy report on shocking right whale deaths

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This summer was catastrophic for the endangered North Atlantic right whale population, with some 12 animals found dead in the Gulf of St Lawrence and off the coast of Newfoundland. Three others were found dead off the northeast US coast.

The numbers were shocking for conservationists who say this is a severe blow to the already critically low population and its ability to recover. There are only about 458 North Atlantic right whales left.

A ballet of three North Atlantic right whale tails break the surface off Provincetown, Mass., in Cape Cod Bay on April 10, 2008.
A ballet of three North Atlantic right whale tails break the surface off Provincetown, Mass., in Cape Cod Bay on April 10, 2008. © Stephan Savoia/AP

Six of the dead whales in the St Lawrence were towed to shore where necropsies were performed.

The official results were released today.  They show that four of the animals died from “blunt force trauma” in other words died after being hit by large ships, while one died as a result of being entangled in fishing gear and the other was too decomposed to say for sure but entanglement was suspected. A seventh whale autopsied  but was not included in the report as findings are not complete.

The body of the eighth right whale brought onshore at Miscou Island, New Brunswick for a necropsy in July. The official report of six necropsies reveal ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements were to blame.
The body of the eighth right whale found dead in the Gulf of St Lawrence was brought onshore at Miscou Island, New Brunswick for a necropsy in July. The official report of six necropsies reveal ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements were to blame.

As a result of the first several deaths being reported, in August Transport Canada introduced a mandatory 10-knot speed limit for large vessels in the Gulf to try and cut down on the number of deaths.  The snow crab fishery in one area of the Gulf was also closed early due to concerns about the possibility of gear entanglements.

A right whale entangled in gear in the Bay of Fundy. Gear can weigh them down so they drown, or prevent feeding so they starve, or cut the skin leading to infection.
A right whale entangled in gear in the Bay of Fundy. Gear can weigh them down so they drown, or prevent feeding so they starve, or cut the skin leading to infection. © (International Fund for Animal Welfare

A huge cruise ship and a Canadian Coast Guard ship were both fined this year for exceeding the speed limit.

While the slow moving right whales are not entirely unusual in the Gulf, the sightings have increased substantially in the past couple of years. It is not however understood why they have begun to move into the Gulf from their more typical summer areas in the Bay of Fundy and southern Nova Scotia.

A news conference was called to release the official necropsy results on the dead whales in the Gulf of St Lawrence. (L-R) Émilie L. Couture, a veterinarian with the Zoo de Granby and the Université de Montréal,-Pierre-Yves Daoust, a pathologist and professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC), a government representative,- Tonya Wimmer, director of the Marine Animal Response Society.
A news conference was called today to release the official necropsy results on the dead whales in the Gulf of St Lawrence. (L-R) Émilie L. Couture, a veterinarian with the Zoo de Granby and the Université de Montréal,–Pierre-Yves Daoust, a pathologist and professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC),– Matthew Hardy, Dept Fisheries and Oceans,– Tonya Wimmer, director of the Marine Animal Response Society. © CBC news

At a news conference today in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, the veteranarians said it is important for all concerned parties to come together  to devise solutions to the issue, adding that because of the whales migration, this would involve an international effort between the U.S. and Canada. They also stressed that action is urgent.

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2 comments on “Necropsy report on shocking right whale deaths
  1. Rose Webster says:

    Getting sick of this line: “… cannot be ruled out but is unlikely.” Source: Infectious disease section of the N.A. right whale necropsy report: http://www.cwhc-rcsf.ca/right_whales.php

    UNLIKELY??? To you but NOT TO ME (and 598 others): https://www.change.org/p/investigate-north-atlantic-right-whale-deaths-without-the-noaa-a-u-s-gov-t-agency

    Dr. Mona Nemer says: “Science is not about beliefs and opinions.”

    Well, here’s a question based on facts: why isn’t anyone looking into what Wolbachia-infected Aedes releases are doing to our food chain and specifically vertebrates?

    Are we going to foolishly cling to Hertig’s 1936 results on mice and chicken embryos? Or, are we going to acknowledge and devote resources to testing vertebrates (including humans) for the presence of Wolbachia?

    Because here are facts that are being willfully ignored:

    The direct effect of Wolbachia can either impede or promote the pathogen’s replication and survival (Zug and Hammerstein, 2015). Examples of neutral or pro-pathogenic effect of Wolbachia include: Brugia pahangi (Dutton and Sinkins, 2005); Japanese encephalitis (JE) Virus (Tsai et al., 2006); Drosophila C Virus (Osborne et al., 2009); and Plasmodium gallinaceum (Baton et al., 2013).

    Wolbachia Enhances West Nile Virus (WNV) Infection in the Mosquito Culex tarsalis: http://journals.plos.org/plosntds/article?id=10.1371/journal.pntd.0002965

    Zika Virus in Salivary Glands of Five Different Species of Wild-Caught Mosquitoes from Mexico: http://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2017/06/19/151951

    I am ever so saddened that this incomplete report did not include tests for Zika, WNV, SLEV, and Wolbachia.

  2. Amanda says:

    C’est terrible.