HALIFAX - Transport Canada has implemented a speed restriction for vessels in the western part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence following yet another death of the endangered North Atlantic right whale on Wednesday.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed a right whale was found dead on the shores of Anticosti Island near the Gulf of St. Lawrence, bringing the number of recent deaths up to five.
Scientists are on scene collecting samples for analysis, and working with various partners to assess necropsy options, said a news release from the fisheries department.
"The government of Canada takes this matter very seriously and we understand the significance of this issue," it said.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement that effective immediately, vessels of 20 metres or more in length travelling in the two designated shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence are restricted to 10 knots
He added the speed restriction is an interim measure.
However, the government will issue a fine of up to $25,000 to those who fail to follow the speed limit, Garneau said.
A necropsy conducted on Punctuation, the North Atlantic right whale found on June 25th in Petit Etang, Nova Scotia, showed her death was due to sharp trauma, consistent with vessel strikes.
Researchers had been studying Punctuation for nearly four decades. She had given birth to at least eight calves.
A study published in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Animals on June 20 looked at the causes of 70 whale deaths between 2003 and 2018.
It found that 22 deaths were because of entanglement, and 16 from vessel strikes. The paper also found that none of the deaths were from natural causes but rather from human activities.
Some of the deaths caused by human activities inflict painful acute deaths, while others are much more protracted, causing a profound amount of suffering for each affected whale.
"If the recent trends presented here are not sufficient to instigate meaningful change within North Atlantic right whale habitat, their extinction is almost certain," the study said.
"If mitigation efforts such as more effective gear modifications, extended fishery closures, and expanded vessel speed restrictions are not implemented imminently, human activities will cause an inhumane and certain extinction of this species in the all-too near future."
The fisheries department confirmed earlier this month the cause of death for one of the first two whales found was not linked to a ship strike or entanglement.
The department reported on Tuesday that another dead whale had been spotted near New Brunswick's Acadian Peninsula, and a fourth had been found west of Quebec's Iles-de-la-Madeleine — a chain of islands northeast of P.E.I.
Garneau said the government takes the protection, conservation, and recovery of endangered species very seriously.
There are about 400 North Atlantic right whales left, with deaths outpacing live births.
Two years ago the federal government brought about a number of measures to protect the whales after 12 of them died in Canadian waters — mostly from collisions with boats or injuries caused by tangled fishing gear.
The measures included increased aerial surveillance, slower speed limits, restrictions on shipping lanes, and real-time monitoring with the help of underwater listening devices.
— By Hina Alam in Vancouver