Endangered right whales could become extinct after an especially deadly year

FILE - In this April 10, 2008 file photo, the head of a North Atlantic right whale peers up from the water as another whale passes behind in Cape Cod Bay near Provincetown, Mass. An August 2016 study found that the ability of the endangered whale species to recover is jeopardized by increasing rates of entanglement in fishing gear and a resultant drop in birth rates. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)

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North Atlantic right whales are trending the wrong way.

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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.

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Recommendations to help the mammals include keeping the whales on the endangered list and the development of a long-term plan for “monitoring the population trends and habitat use, and studying the effect of commercial fishing” on the species, reports the AP.

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