"The concern is great", said Frank Gromling, owner of Ocean Art Gallery in Ormond Beach and a longtime advocate with the Marineland Right Whale Project.
The female, #3815, was on the cusp of sexual maturity and had yet to give birth, according to the New England Aquarium. He was first spotted in Cape Cod Bay in April 1985, which made him at least 33 years old. The fourth dead whale, No. 3815, was an unnamed young female born in 2008, who had not yet had a calf.
The New England Aquarium has been logging North Atlantic right whales for decades in a database called the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog. But the females are often accompanied on that long migration through some of the world's busiest shipping channels by males and juvenile whales. There are only about 400 of the animals left, with only about 100 breeding females in that population.
With each additional death, the situation becomes more worrisome to Jim Hain, senior scientist and program coordinator for the Marineland Right Whale Project, and other whale scientists.
"There's still a disconnect between what the data are telling us, and what protections are in place", he said.
"We've been studying these animals for about three years and kind of thought that we knew where they were most likely to be aggregating and then this year they ended up in a totally different spot".
Scientists are on scene collecting samples for analysis, and working with various partners to assess necropsy options, said a news release from the fisheries department.
Last year, there were no recorded deaths of right whales in Canadian waters, which was an vast relief for conservationists, given the fact that 12 right whales had died in 2017 - mostly from ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear.
Punctuation is seen here with one of her eight calves, swimming off the coast of Georgia in 2006. She was first seen in 1984. They often travel to Canadian waters during the summer.
The aquarium referred to the deaths of the two females as "a major biological loss".
"The whales are going to go to wherever the best food resources are".
So, it remains an open question, said Hain. That's in addition to speed restrictions brought in this spring for a large swath of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
On Wednesday, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said governments should do more to protect the whales from extinction by addressing human activities that kill them. As the New York Timesand The Atlantic reported via the catalog, the first right whale to pass away this month was a 9-year-old male named Wolverine. Of those, 56 were examined or necropsied and the cause of death was determined in 43 cases.
Necropsy results show at least one of the dead whales had injuries consistent with a vessel strike. Punctuation had suffered both.
Sean Brillant, a senior conservation biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service, said the federal government has to be more agile in responding to the rapidly increasing number of deaths.
Measures have been put in place to prevent more deaths by reducing the potential for ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement.
He said Fisheries and Oceans Canada has done a good by expanding the area closed to commercial fishing, but he also said Transport Canada must do more. The deep waters in the Gulf of ME are warming faster than any other part of the ocean affecting the copepods the whales love to eat.
"This whale is definitely a big one".