A rare North Atlantic right whale is pictured here off the coast of Massachusetts several years ago entangled in fishing line. Scientists are trying to figure out what caused the deaths of six of the endangered whales so far this month off the southeastern coast of Canada. 
Photo: Getty Images/Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images/Getty Images

6 endangered right whales turn up dead in massive loss to population

The Canadian government and marine experts are investigating the deaths of six endangered North American right whales over a period of several weeks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off Canada’s southeastern coast.

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The dead whales were discovered between June 7 and June 23 in an area bordered by New Brunswick, Quebec and northern Prince Edward Island, CBC News reported.

The deaths represent a massive loss for the small remaining population of the marine mammals, which can grow up to 46 feet long and weigh as much as 150,000 pounds.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada estimates some 500 right whales exist globally, while the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates just 350 remain worldwide.

The six deaths represent about 1 percent of the population, according to the CBC.

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“For this species, even one animal is a hit to the population," Tonya Wimmer, marine biologist and director

director of the Marine Animal Response Society, told National Geographic.

“It’s catastrophic,” Wimmer said. "It seems very odd that they would die in this time frame and in the same area.”

The investigation into how the whales died is underway, but  a number of factors could have played a role, including global warming, a decrease in food supply, toxins in the water or high noise levels.

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