Scientists from across North America met in Halifax on Sunday to discuss solutions to the devastating death toll of North Atlantic right whales this past summer.
Nearly three per cent of the endangered species’ population has died in the past six months in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Experts at the conference say they want to find a solution to the crisis before the whales return next season.
“The species can't sustain this level of mortality,” says senior scientist at the Canadian Whale Institute, Moira Brown.
For years experts say the endangered right whale population has been improving as shipping lane regulations were been put into place to protect the whales’ path in the Bay of Fundy and along the Atlantic East Coast.
This summer, the course correction took a wrong turn as the whales were met with vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglement.
The population of the right whale is estimated to be at 500, with 15 dying since the spring.
Marine ecologist, Mark Baumgartner says time is running out for the endangered species.
"If we keep going the way we are the same calving rates the same mortality rates those breeding females will be gone in about two decades that's a really short period of time so scientists are really concerned about that population,” says Baumgartner.
A speed limit on ships was imposed to avoid collisions with the creatures in August and there’s been no new reports of deadly strikes since.
Brown says she commends the shipping industry’s response to the crisis for imposing the mandatory speed rule.
“Those of us that work on right whales are very appreciative of their response because we do understand it does affect their day-to-day operations,” says Brown.
The plight of the right whale also took a human toll this past season, claiming the life of one of their greatest protectors, Joe Howlett.
Howlett was killed while working to free a whale tangled in fishing line in July.
The wildlife rescuer from New Brunswick was celebrated at the conference for his preservation of the species.
“He's a champion, a real hero and we miss him a great deal,” Brown says.
Howlett’s colleagues at the conference say they’re left to continue his work to protect the North Atlantic right whales in his memory.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Marie Adsett.