New estimate lowers number of right whales

Annual report card comes as researchers work to identify whale found dead off Nantucket.

NEW BEDFORD — A gut feeling among North Atlantic right whale experts that the population of the beleaguered animals has dropped to around 400 has been reinforced with a new statistical estimate of 411 animals as of the end of 2017.

“The public shouldn’t think there are exactly 411 whales,” Center for Coastal Studies right whale researcher Charles “Stormy” Mayo said Thursday at the end of the two-day North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium annual meeting. “We believe that they are in the low 400s, or around 400.”

The consortium’s annual report card for the end of 2016 had set the population number at 451, using a statistical model unveiled last year.

The loss of about 40 right whales, under the statistical model, between the end of 2016 and the end of 2017 would include the 12 documented deaths in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada and the five off the Cape and Islands linked in large part to human causes of entanglement in fishing rope and being struck by ships.

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