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Endangered right whale found dead off Cape Cod coast

With an estimated 360 right whales left on the planet, news of the death of this whale has left researchers stunned and saddened.
Endangered right whale found dead off Cape Cod coast
Posted at 3:28 PM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-31 15:29:29-05

Battling a pounding surf and relentless waves along the coast of Martha's Vineyard, scientists are hoping an examination of a critically endangered right whale can provide more clues as to how the female juvenile died earlier this week.

With an estimated 360 right whales left on the planet, news of the death of this whale has left researchers stunned and saddened.

"I've been doing this long enough that I've dealt with a lot of heartache with this species. We're losing a lot when we lose a right whale," said Philip Hamilton, who serves as senior scientist at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium.

On Sunday, the juvenile female whale was discovered floating near Martha's Vineyard. Scientists with NOAA say it appears the whale became tangled in fishing line. However, the exact cause of death still has not been determined.

Right whales are considered critically endangered, and a single death can set the recovery of the species back more than a year. Scientists are particularly concerned that this whale was a female who potentially could've helped reproduce the species.

Only 70 right whales are believed to be reproductively active females.

"This female that just died could've been responsible for up to 30 whales added to a population that is 350-360, so it's dramatic," Hamilton said.

"I really want this species to survive, and they're fighting hard," Hamilton added.

Scientists believe entanglements and ship strikes are the leading cause of death of right whales.

In 2021, Scripps News first examined efforts to save this endangered species, looking at how new ropeless lobster traps could help prevent entanglements. With tens of millions of fishing lines in the Atlantic Ocean, it's easy for right whales to become caught. This 100-ton mammal uses the entire force of its body to try and break free, which can cause deep and sometimes fatal gashes in the whale's body.

"Every time we see the death of a North Atlantic right whale we know the recovery of this species is going to take longer and be put in jeopardy," said Gib Brogan with the group Oceana.


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