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Why Did Six Highly-Endangered Whales Suddenly Die?

Jun 27, 2017 05:36 PM EDT
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Humpback whales seen under the Golden Gate Bridge
right whales

(Photo : Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Six North American right whales have mysteriously turned up dead within the past few weeks and now conservationists are doing everything they can to find out why.

Researchers claim the whales seemed relatively healthy, leaving no explanation of how they washed up in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada.

Shortly after the first whale was spotted, a second was found on June 19.

"It seems very odd that they would die in this time frame and in the same area," said Tonya Wimmer of the Marine Animal Response Society, calling the incident "catastrophic."

"This year with having only five calves born and having six die, you're actually going backwards with the population,'" she added.

Fisheries Department Marc LeCouffe says a few of the whales were tagged with satellite trackers, which could help answer some questions. In addition, the whales will undergo necropsies.

"They (need) an area that is accessible by heavy equipment,'' Isabelle Elliott of the federal Fisheries Department said on Monday. "We need to put together a plan for towing the whales from their location in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the appropriate location. We need to mobilize a team to do the necropsies.''

According to Wimmer, gathering enough biological samples will be imperative in determining the whales' cause of death.

In a search for answers, Fisheries Department Matthew Hardy said the deaths might have been a result of toxic algal bloom.

"It is a theory that we're considering. We are also looking at other species that frequent those waters -- birds and other fish -- that can give us some indication as to whether there are signs of toxic algal blooms. We have not observed any overt signs at this time,'' he said.

Right whales are an endangered species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates only 350 still exist in the Northwest Atlantic.

"For this species, even one animal is a hit to the population," Wimmer said. 

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