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Two new tragedies threaten right whales

A rare North Atlantic right whale was found dead this month and another was critically hurt in a collision with a yacht, the latest bad news for the struggling species, according to the New England Aquarium.

The right whale death was the fifth since November for an endangered species with a population of about 350. At least four of the whales that have died in the last four months were breeding females, according to the aquarium.

In addition, two near-term fetuses have been killed since November.

The most recent death was probably caused by injuries from a severe fishing gear entanglement, according to Michael Moore of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth. The whale was found on Ship Shoal Island, Va.

Late last month, federal regulators released proposed new rules to prevent fishing line entanglements, including a switch for lobstermen to ropes that sink to the ocean floor. But final rules won't go into effect for several months.

The injured whale was hit on March 10 by a 43-foot yacht traveling at 20 knots about 7 miles off Cumberland, Ga., the aquarium said.

Scientists are concerned the whale may not live, and they are hoping that the injured portion of its tail falls off, according to the aquarium.

A federal report released in August 2001 recommended ways to protect the right whale from ship strikes, but no rules have since been proposed by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

Aquarium officials called for the quick implementation of emergency measures.

''This is a crisis that cannot continue unless we as a society are willing to accept our role in the extinction of this species," said Amy Knowlton, a research scientist at the aquarium.

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