Last summer and fall, 17 right whales were found dead around Cape Cod and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where many of the whales have recently started showing up to feed, possibly because they are having trouble finding food in the waters off Lubec and Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. The spate of deaths represented more than 3 percent of the species’ total population of 450, prompting scientists to warn that they could become functionally extinct by 2040 if things don’t turn around. Researchers had previously estimated the species could withstand only one human-caused death a year, though five to six died annually between 2010 and 2014.

Last week, Canada’s public broadcaster reported 14 ships – including three cruise ships that had called on Maine ports – had been fined for violating emergency speed limits imposed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to protect the whales. Another 78 cases are under investigation.

Meanwhile, 1,500 miles to the south, whale researchers have been waiting in vain for pregnant females to be sighted in their calving grounds off the Atlantic coasts of north Florida and Georgia. Bad weather has kept aerial surveys on the ground for much of past three weeks, so scientists are hopeful that the whales are actually there, but the federal government shutdown will keep one and possibly both of the survey planes grounded until Congress can resolve the impasse.

Read the full story at the Portland Press Herald