Dozens of North Atlantic Whales Injured and Sick in Tragic Mortality Event

by Craig Garrett
Southern Right Whale off Peninsula Valdes, Patagonia - stock photo

An analysis of ill and injured right whales has added 36 cases to a continuing mortality event, threatening the species with extinction. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries division said that the extra morbidity cases were due to a review of protocol by a veterinarian. The event in question started back in 2017, The New York Post reports. According to NOAA, the cases were likely caused by vessel strikes, entanglements, and injuries from an unknown source.

Kim Damon-Randall, director of the office of protected resources elaborated on the issue in a statement. “These sublethal impacts, although not necessarily life-threatening, may be impeding health, growth, and reproduction of individual whales. Therefore recovery of the North Atlantic right whale species as a whole,” Damon-Randall explained.

The agency said that the review of cases is still taking place. More instances could be added to the event as more information becomes available. The NOAA said that human interaction right whale mortalities is a small number. However, the real number of right whales impacted by interactions with people is likely much larger. Scientists have estimated that, on average, about only one-third of North Atlantic right whale mortalities are actually detected.

So far, the agency has counted 91 right whale deaths or injuries off the coasts of Canada and America. The main causes are collisions with vessels and getting tangled in fishing gear. According to experts, there are only about 350 North Atlantic right whales left in existence. Sadly, barely 70 of those are females.

An entangled whale was spotted near Canada

The last time a whale was spotted entangled off the coast of North America was at the end of August. The animal wasn’t seen tangled up in any fishing gear early on in the month. However, a few weeks later, biologists from NOAA fisheries determined that it had become majorly entangled.

The right whale’s injuries were extensive, and the biologists said the animal would most likely die from its injuries. The animal was the twenty-first injured whale to be recorded in the North Atlantic right whale unusual mortality event.

Long-range modeling forecasts are key to the effective management of whale populations. However, these models have been historically difficult to produce. Marine mammals are impacted by a variety of factors. These include human activity and dynamic environmental changes such as temperature fluctuations and prey availability. These variables can make planning and conservation efforts challenging.

The authors of a recent study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment said that while current models predicting humpback whale behavior are largely accurate, they only predict activity up to two weeks in advance, which is insufficient. Although an ongoing SubX project could theoretically increase the lead time, factors such as the Gulf Stream’s current have made long-term accuracies more complicated.