Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S. have joined hands to solve the mystery behind deaths of endangered North Atlantic right whales in Canadian and U.S. waters. On Friday, both agencies announced that they will jointly use their resources to find out the causes of these deaths. The agencies will also prepare a report to draft regulations that will help protect the vulnerable animal in future.

Only 500 North Atlantic right whales exist in the world

North Atlantic right whales are among the rarest marine mammals, and only about 500 of them now live in the whole world.

Animal experts have warned that the population of these animals is so small that even a single year of high mortality and poor reproduction could pose a big threat to the existence of this species.

This year, 13 right whales were found dead near U.S. and Canadian coasts—more than triple the annual average of 3.8 in the U.S. and Canada. Ten of the dead whales were found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, while two were found in the U.S. waters. Four whales were also found entangled in fishing gear, and two of them were successfully released. According to some experts ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear is most likely the primary reason behind these deaths, although there could be other reasons as well.

David Gouveia of NOAA said saving North Atlantic right whales is one of the most difficult conservation challenges for of NOAA and DFO.

Death of 13 right whales is an unusual event

According to the NOAA, the death of so many right whales is an “unusual mortality event” and a “focused, expert investigation” is needed to reveal the cause of these deaths.

Officials will now collect data related to each dead whale and also take into account factors such as habitat or environmental changes.

Officials said a budget for this investigation is not yet finalized, and the report may take some months to assemble.

Earlier this month, Ottawa authorities ordered big ships to slow down their speed before moving in the western Gulf of St.

Lawrence (from the Quebec north shore to north of Prince Edward Island). Vessels that are 20m. or more in length will move at speeds no more than 10 knots (about 19 km/h), and those not following orders may face a fine of up to $25,000. U.S. authorities have also imposed “dynamic restrictions” on ship speeds based on whale sightings. The government has also introduced gear modification rules to reduce fishing gear entanglement instances.