Officials: Whales, after deadly year, could become extinct

A rare North Atlantic right whale surfaces June 27, 2001 off the coast of Massachusetts. Scientists launched a second rescue attempt July 10, 2001 to remove fishing line embedded in the infected jaw of the endangered 45-foot whale.

PORTLAND, Maine — Science officials with the federal government say it’s time to consider the possibility that endangered right whales could become extinct unless new steps are taken to protect them.

North Atlantic right whales are among the rarest marine mammals in the world, and they have endured a deadly year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there are only about 450 of the whales left and 17 of them have died so far in 2017.

The Northeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries says the situation is so dire that American and Canadian regulators need to consider the possibility that the population won’t recover.

The high year of mortality is coinciding with a year of poor reproduction, and there are only about 100 breeding female North Atlantic right whales left.