New Brunswick

North Atlantic right whales make return to Canadian waters

North Atlantic right whales have returned to Canadian waters, with the first two whales of the season spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Sunday, according to the federal government.

2 critically endangered whales spotted in Gulf of St. Lawrence Sunday

A North Atlantic right whale swims in the waters of Cape Cod Bay in April 2019. The first of the whales have made their way into Canadian waters this season. (AFP via Getty Images)

North Atlantic right whales have returned to Canadian waters, with the first two whales of the season spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Sunday, according to the federal government.

A Fisheries and Oceans Canada aerial surveillance crew spotted the animals swimming in the middle of the gulf, more than 100 kilometres northeast of Miscou Island. A Dalhousie University whale-tracking map shows the most recent detections.

Researchers try to keep a close eye on the movements of the critically endangered species, in part to help inform government-imposed protective measures.

This will be the first season with the additional protections in place that Ottawa announced in late February — on top of existing steps such as vessel speed limits and changes to the fishing season calendar.

New rules

This year a fishing zone in the gulf will be closed until the end of the season on Nov. 15 if whales are detected in that area more than once during a 15-day period. Previously, the zone would be re-opened after 15 days.

Temporary fishing closures will also expand further into the Bay of Fundy.

The government also introduced special restricted areas that vessels will have to either avoid completely or in which their speed must be reduced to eight knots.

Fisheries are also required to mark their gear to identify the country, region and fishery it was used in, in an effort to help trace the gear after an entanglement. 

One calf dead

Researchers were excited to see a boom in calves this season with 10 new North Atlantic right whales observed in U.S. water, but Fisheries and Oceans Canada said one is presumed dead.

A days-old calf was spotted with injuries from a vessel strike

Ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement are the leading cause of death for North Atlantic right whales. 

Since 2017, 29 whales — not counting the calf presumed dead — have died in Canadian waters.

There are only about 400 right whales left in the world, and fewer than 100 breeding females.

With files from Danielle McCreadie, Sarah Morin

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