North Atlantic right whales are trending the wrong way.
The endangered species has seen 17 whales die this year alone, and there are only about 450 left in the world, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reports the Associated Press.
Now, environmentalists and scientists are saying action must be taken so that the rare mammal won’t become extinct.
“You do have to use the ‘extinction’ word, because that’s where the trend lines say they are,” John Bullard, the northeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, told the AP. “That’s something we can’t let happen.”
The high number of deaths, coupled with 2017’s poor reproduction numbers — there are only about 100 breeding female North Atlantic right whales remaining — means the population has drastically dwindled.
Vessel strikes and entanglements in fishing equipment are some of the leading causes of the animals’ deaths.
“My colleagues are trying to find solutions, so we can find out how they can continue to fish but not entangle whales,” said Elizabeth Burgess, an associate scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium in Boston who co-authored a study on the danger fishing equipment poses to the whales.