Gray whales continue to wash up dead and emaciated, but causes remain elusive.
The most recent known incident took place in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2010 when a group of at least 14 gray whales died in the same area off the coast of Nootka Sound.
This winter, a second winter season of large numbers of gray whales migrating through the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, with no reported deaths, has led to theories that the animals could be suffering from disease.
The region is also home to the endangered eastern narwhal, or manatee dolphin.
Researchers have suggested a number of factors could be causing the gray whale to die, including hypoxia, starvation or asphyxiation due to entanglement on underwater structures.
However, the cause of death is still not known.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has established a new mortality prevention program for gray whales and other marine mammals.
Nathalie Girard, a program leader with the National Marine Fisheries Service, says the program will have three components to it.
The first is a mortality prevention network, which Girard says will identify areas where marine mammal deaths are occurring and identify causes of death.
That information will then be shared with other organizations, where it becomes part of their research and conservation activities.
A second component of the program is to have a program of outreach and education, Girard says, so all the organizations involved can better understand what’s happening to marine mammals.
The third component of the program is “working closely with other groups to ensure that we are doing everything we can to support and encourage their efforts in this area.”
There are nine other marine mammal species in Canada’s northern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Many of them are in decline and are threatened with extinction, Girard says, including belugas, harp seals, black bears, seals and walrusses.
However, there are also a number of marine species in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence that are healthy and safe, Girard says.
“The Gulf of St. Lawrence is a very important ecosystem for both humans and marine mammals,” Girard says. “Our goal is to maintain the health [of this ecosystem] as long as possible.”
Girard says that many of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence’s marine mammals are protected from fishing