Local Researchers Echo Federal Concerns for Right Whale Population

Three rare North Atlantic right whales photographed in Cape Cod Bay by Center for Coastal Studies aerial survey team on February 21, 2016.
CCS image taken under NOAA permit #14603-1.

HYANNIS – Critically endangered North Atlantic right whales will soon congregate in Cape Cod Bay for the winter and local researchers are echoing the concerns expressed by government officials about the species’ future.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials believe the whales could become extinct unless new steps are taken to protect them.

Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, with the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, said all the principal indicators for the status of the whales are negative.

“If the trend goes as it has, apparently since 2010, – if that trend continues there is only one answer: It will go extinct,” Mayo said.

Right whales have had a rough year with at least 17 deaths for a population estimated to be around 450.

The high total of deaths also coincided with a poor year of reproduction and only about 100 breeding females remain.

Mayo agrees with NOAA Fisheries Northeast regional administrator, who says the status of the population is dire and likely headed toward extinction.

“It’s a little like Scrooge and ‘A Christmas Carol,’” Mayo said. “You look forward and you can see the situation could be bad, but you can change it and the hope is we can figure out how to change it.”

Mayo said it is tough to be able to help increase the reproduction rate for the species but that deaths are preventable.

“The deaths, at least the ones we know about, are generally human caused,” Mayo said.

The majority of right whale deaths are attributed to vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglements.

Efforts to increase the right whale population have been underway for the last few decades without much success, according to Mayo.

“I think a redoubled effort will make a difference,” he said.

BY BRIAN MERCHANT, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

Material from the Associated Press was used in this article.

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