An­other right whale en­tan­gled

Mam­mal found in fish­ing gear in Gulf of St. Lawrence

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - THE ISLAND -

An en­dan­gered North At­lantic right whale has been freed after get­ting en­tan­gled in fish­ing gear near the area where six other whales were found dead.

Tonya Wim­mer of the Ma­rine An­i­mal Re­sponse So­ci­ety said the large whale was cut free of the fish­ing line in its mouth after it was spot­ted by an aerial sur­veil­lance plane in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

“It’s a good news story ... thank good­ness,” said Kim Davies of Dal­housie Univer­sity’s Depart­ment of Oceanog­ra­phy. “It was dis­en­tan­gled pretty read­ily – they didn’t have to chase it over mul­ti­ple days.”

The whale didn’t ap­pear to have been snarled in the mess of gear for very long, and ap­peared to not have suf­fered se­ri­ous in­juries, Davies said.

A re­search ship was nearby and ma­rine mam­mal ex­perts were able to free the whale within six hours of it be­ing spot­ted.

The dis­cov­ery comes after six of the mas­sive an­i­mals were found float­ing in the gulf, with two suf­fer­ing in­juries con­sis­tent with ship strikes and a third dy­ing from an en­tan­gle­ment in fish­ing gear.

One of the six dead whales has now drifted close to shore on the Mag­dalen Is­lands. Wim­mer said they are dis­cussing send­ing a team to do an an­i­mal au­topsy to de­ter­mine its cause of death, as had been done in three others.

“It seems very clear that there def­i­nitely are a lot of right whales that are us­ing that habi­tat ... they’re def­i­nitely en­coun­ter­ing the gear that ob­vi­ously is in that area,” Wim­mer said.

Re­searchers have iden­ti­fied 90 in­di­vid­ual whales this year in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Davies said, and they ap­pear to be cross­ing ship­ping lanes.

“We have fairly good ev­i­dence ... that there’s prob­a­bly more whales in the gulf now than there has been, and these en­tan­gle­ments and ship strikes are not iso­lated events,” she said. “There’s been a few dif­fer­ent events now.”

Three right whales were found dead in the south­ern gulf in 2015, although none were necrop­sied, she said.

There are no con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment ini­tia­tives for right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence “be­cause we’ve only known they’ve been there for three years,” Davies said.

Mea­sures have been taken else­where in the Mar­itimes to min­i­mize con­tact be­tween ship­ping traf­fic and whales, and Davies said she ex­pects sim­i­lar mea­sures will be dis­cussed in the gulf.

“There are speed re­stric­tion op­tions, there’s re-rout­ing op­tions, there’s adap­tive man­age­ment op­tions, so I think we’re go­ing to see all that put on the ta­ble now,” she said.

Among the pos­si­bil­i­ties: Acous­tic mon­i­tor­ing for whales, so ships can be alerted in real time that they are present, as cur­rently hap­pens in the Bos­ton area.

CANA­DIAN WHALE IN­STI­TUTE/NEW ENG­LAND AQUAR­IUM

A North At­lantic right whale was freed from a fish­ing net Wed­nes­day near the area where other whales have been found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

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