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Entanglement Badly Injures Young North Atlantic Right Whale in Canadian Waters

Dr.Pierre-Yves Dumont collects samples from a dead right whale in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in June 2017.
The Canadian Press
HO- Marine Animal Response Society
Dr.Pierre-Yves Dumont collects samples from a dead right whale in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in June 2017.

A male North Atlantic right whale with a history of entanglements is ‘badly injured’ off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada, after being entangled in rope of “unknown origin.”

It’s the first time a critically endangered right whale has been reported entangled in Canadian waters since 2019.

“It was thrashing quite a lot,” said Amy Knowlton, a researcher with the New England Aquarium who maintains a catalog of right whales. A member of her team helped to identify the whale. “There was blood on the tail region and there was rope around the head, maybe around one of the flippers and also around the tail stock. So it was pretty wrapped up in gear and definitely trying to shed that gear.”

The 5-year-old male, known as EG#4615, was seen swimming safely in the gulf of Saint Lawrence just five days before researchers found it struggling to free itself.

"We determined after reviewing all of our images taken from the boat that day that #4615 was seen without gear at around noon and then entangled at just after 4:30 pm so we now know it was a very recent, same day entanglement," said Knowlton in an email. “It’s very unusual to sort of know the region or even a small area of where the whale got entangled."

In the last four years, 49 right whales have died or been seriously injured, with the leading causes of injury being entanglement and collisions with ships. As a result, the species population has fallen to around 360.

“We just gotta keep pushing these efforts to shift to ropeless gear or weak rope [that breaks under the strength of an adult right whale], to really change fisheries in general,” Knowlton said, “so that they’re not going to be killing whales or causing severe injuries like this whale’s probably experiencing.”

The whale was found in an area with vessel speed limits and where no active fishing was taking place, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

Nick Hawkins
Northeast Fisheries Science Center, collected under MMPA Permit #21371

“All key crab and lobster fisheries in the area are now closed for the season. The origin of the rope is not presently known. All evidence will be investigated by DFO,” said a spokesperson in an email.

Scientists are now tracking the whale, which has been entangled at least three other times in its life, and will try to disentangle it if weather and sea conditions allow.

On July 8, Canadian crews were also able to partially disentangle second North Atlantic right whale, called Snow Cone, in the same area. In March, Provincetown’s Center for Coastal Studies managed to remove 300 feet of what appeared to be fishing rope from the 16-year-old female in Cape Cod Bay.

Peter Duley/Northeast Fisheries Science Center, collected under MMPA Permit #21371