Researchers plan study on dead whale found in Cape Cod Bay

Flickr  Creative Commons

Flickr Creative Commons

The population of right whales remains just over 500, making them "the most endangered large whale species in the Atlantic. and probably one of the two or three most endangered whales in the world", LaCasse told the Globe Thursday. The trained spotters who observe mother-and-calf pairs during aerial surveys said that there were very few sightings this year.

The right whales that return to Cape Cod also look less thin and more robust than in the past spring seasons.

The North Atlantic right whale population stretches from Nova Scotia down to Georgia.

A single bad year does not automatically mean trouble. The number is far from the average calf births in 2009, which reached 39. The yearly average is 17. Birth numbers can fluctuate greatly year to year.

After births bottomed out in 2000, the whales rebounded with a baby boom of 31 newborns the following year. They know this because mother whales are photographed and identified by unique markings on their heads.

"This is incredibly exciting" said Charles "Stormy" Mayo, director of the center's Right Whale Ecology program, said in a statement. The three whales that did give birth had not had babies in seven to eight years - more than double the typical span between births.

Right whale researcher Philip Hamilton of the New England Aquarium in Boston says evidence in recent years has pointed to a potential food shortage for right whales, which could help explain the low births. "Our colleagues in the southeast USA saw only three new right whale calves this season, so for us to identify a fourth addition to this critically endangered population is great news".

Researchers hope a necropsy and internal samples will determine the cause of the whale's death.

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