08/15/2017 11:37 EDT | Updated 08/15/2017 11:41 EDT

Accidental deaths of endangered right whales threaten species' survival

PORTLAND, Maine — Marine conservation groups say accidental deaths this year among the endangered North Atlantic right whales threaten the species' survival.

The right whales are among the most imperilled marine mammals on Earth.

Biologist Regina Asmutis-Silvia says at least 12 whales have died since April — or about 2 per cent of the population — nearly all of them in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Asmutis-Silvia and other conservationists say the deaths are evidence that regulations to prevent ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear need to be strengthened in the United States and Canada.

Marine regulators in both countries say efforts to protect whales are ongoing.

On Friday, the Canadian government ordered large vessels to slow down to 10 knots, or about 19 kilometres per hour, in the gulf.

It’s believed 80 to 100 right whales are currently in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.