12 endangered right whales spotted in Gulf of St. Lawrence

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has now spotted 12 North Atlantic rights whales in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, up from the two confirmed earlier this week that prompted the department to close several fishing areas.

Fishing areas closed earlier this week east of New Brunswick, Quebec

Twelve North Atlantic right whales have now been spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Thursday. (Center for Coastal Studies/NOAA)

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has now spotted 12 North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence — up from the two whose arrival earlier this week prompted the closure of several fishing areas. 

In a tweet, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the whales are in a zone already closed to fishing, so they don't require additional management measures, and no changes will be made to the closure area.

"We will continue to monitor the situation," LeBlanc said.

On Sunday, the department announced it was temporarily closing a 3,000-square-kilometre area to fishing in an effort to protect the endangered mammal.

At least 18 North Atlantic right whales have been found dead since the beginning of last year, and entanglement in fishing gear has been one of the dangers they face.

The zone closures were announced Sunday and required all fisheries to remove their gear by Wednesday afternoon.

The order will remain in effect until further notice, according to a news release issued by the department.

Sunday's decision caused some anger and panic among crab and lobster fisherman, who were already frustrated by meagre catches this season.

LeBlanc said the closures have been ordered to protect the highly endangered whale, and his department has no intention of changing them. (CBC)

But LeBlanc said Thursday that the measures are necessary to protect the whales, and the department has no intention of changing them.

"These are management measures that we've put in place to protect the highly endangered North Atlantic right whales. These measures were explained to the industry on multiple occasions," he said.

Protecting right whales

An area off the northeast coast of New Brunswick has been closed since the beginning of the season. That closure will remain in effect until June 30.

But the federal government had said that more temporary closures would be put in place as the right whales migrated north and would only be lifted when surveillance flights showed the whales were no longer in the area.

In addition, a mandatory slowdown of ships was ordered by the department after 542 ship transits were reported for allegedly breaking the speed limit last year.

Fourteen were fined the minimum amount of $6,000 by the Transport Department.