Eighth whale found dead

North At­lantic right whale float­ing life­less; an­other en­tan­gled in Gulf of St. Lawrence

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - THE ISLAND - BY ALI­SON AULD With files from Aly Thom­son in Hal­i­fax

An­other en­dan­gered North At­lantic right whale has been found float­ing life­less in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, an an­i­mal res­cue group said Thurs­day as plans were be­ing made to tow the an­i­mal ashore.

The Marine An­i­mal Re­sponse So­ci­ety said an aerial sur­vey con­ducted by the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion in the U.S. spot­ted the whale car­cass late Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon east of Ship­pa­gan, N.B. The group said the sur­vey also re­vealed an­other en­tan­gled right whale in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The so­ci­ety’s re­sponse co-or­di­na­tor An­drew Reid said they are work­ing with the fed­eral Fish­eries De­part­ment and the Cana­dian Wildlife Health Co­op­er­a­tive to con­duct a necropsy of the whale to de­ter­mine what killed it.

“We have to find a suit­able necropsy lo­ca­tion to tow the an­i­mal to,” Reid said in

“Where we’re deal­ing with such an en­dan­gered species, it’s very con­cern­ing. For any species it would be con­cern­ing to have this many an­i­mals die in such a short pe­riod. For a species like the North At­lantic right whale, where there are so few an­i­mals left, it’s a height­ened con­cern.” An­drew Reid

Hal­i­fax. “We’re co-or­di­nat­ing with our col­leagues at the Cana­dian Wildlife Health Co-op­er­a­tive... to bring the nec­es­sary re­sources on site to do the necropsy.”

Reid called the whale deaths “un­prece­dented.”

“Where we’re deal­ing with such an en­dan­gered species, it’s very con­cern­ing. For any species it would be con­cern­ing to have this many an­i­mals die in such a short pe­riod,” he said.

“For a species like the North At­lantic right whale, where there are so few an­i­mals left, it’s a height­ened con­cern.”

North At­lantic right whales are crit­i­cally en­dan­gered, with only about 525 es­ti­mated alive.

Last week, the wildlife co­op­er­a­tive said a necropsy per­formed in the Mag­dalen Is­lands on one of the eight right whales found float­ing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence showed it had marks of blunt trauma, sug­gest­ing it may have col­lided with a ves­sel.

Tests per­formed ear­lier on two other North At­lantic right whales in Prince Ed­ward Is­land also showed signs of blunt trauma. An­other died as a re­sult of what the group called a chronic en­tan­gle­ment in fish­ing line.

Disen­tan­gle­ments of right whales were re­cently put on hold by Ot­tawa fol­low­ing the death of a whale res­cuer in New Brunswick. Joe Howlett, who was also a lob­ster fish­er­men, died af­ter free­ing a North At­lantic right whale that had been en­tan­gled in fish­ing gear near Ship­pa­gan, N.B.

The United States had im­ple­mented sim­i­lar pro­to­cols, but an­nounced ear­lier this week that it was al­low­ing its whaledis­en­tan­gle­ment teams to re­sume most res­cue op­er­a­tions, ex­cept for the dis­en­tan­gling of right whales.

Chris Oliver, as­sis­tant ad­min­is­tra­tor with the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, cited right whales’ un­pre­dictable be­hav­iour as a chal­lenge dur­ing res­cue at­tempts. Jerry Con­way of the Cana­dian Whale In­sti­tute in Cam­po­bello, N.B., agreed.

“The North At­lantic right whale has a vi­o­lent re­ac­tion when cer­tainly the weight that has been re­strict­ing it is re­leased, and it’s an es­cape mech­a­nism,” Con­way said Thurs­day. “Some of the other whales are far more docile and just swim away. The North At­lantic right whale re­acts vi­o­lently, and this is why they have to be treated en­tirely dif­fer­ently.”

Con­way said the Fish­eries De­part­ment has sent an air­craft to lo­cate the en­tan­gled whale so it can be tagged with a track­ing de­vice to mon­i­tor its move­ments. He said of­fi­cials will then con­sult with ex­perts on the safest course of ac­tion.

The Gulf is a rel­a­tively new en­vi­ron­ment for right whales, said Con­way, whose pri­mary feed­ing grounds have tra­di­tion­ally been in the Bay of Fundy and Rose­way Basin. With ini­tial find­ings sug­gest­ing that hu­man ac­tiv­ity may have played a role in the string of right whale deaths, Con­way said that fish­er­men in the gulf will have to be a part of any ef­fort to save the lum­ber­ing gi­ants.

“The fish­ing in­dus­try it­self is the an­swer and will pos­si­bly help solve this prob­lem,” said Con­way. “Fish­er­men are very in­no­va­tive. They can de­velop strate­gies, with the right in­for­ma­tion and given the time and re­sources, that could mit­i­gate this a great deal.”

Con­way said if the cur­rent rate of right whale deaths per­sists over the next few years, the demise of the en­dan­gered an­i­mals will become “in­evitable.”

MARINE AN­I­MAL RE­SPONSE SO­CI­ETY VIA CP/SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust col­lects sam­ples from a dead right whale in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in a re­cent hand­out photo. Daoust is pro­fes­sor of anatomic pathol­ogy and wildlife pathol­ogy at the At­lantic Vet­eri­nary Col­lege and co-or­di­na­tor of the Cana­dian Co­op­er­a­tive Wildlife Health Cen­tre for the At­lantic re­gion.

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