Canada’s DFO reports entanglement of another right whale

Four North Atlantic right whales swimming together
The Canada Department of Fisheries is reporting an entangled North Atlantic right whale was spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence | Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries
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The Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has reported an entangled North Atlantic right whale was spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on 10 May – the first right whale sighting in Canadian waters in the 2024 season.

The whale has been identified as Whale #EG4510, or “Shelagh,” and is an adult female. According to ocean conservation nonprofit Oceana, this marks the second time Shelagh has been entangled – the first occurred in 2017 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and she was later disentangled by the crew of a research vessel.

The incident also marks the second entangled North Atlantic right whale of 2024. In January, a right whale was found dead off the coast of Edgartown, Massachusetts, U.S.A., with clear signs of entanglement. A later necropsy revealed that the whale was entangled in lobstering gear originating from the U.S. state of Maine. 

The new entanglement has renewed calls by environmental groups to take stronger action on fishing gear.

“Once again, a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is entangled in fishing gear that could have been prevented if proper regulations were in place,” Oceana Campaign Director Gib Brogan said. “While we wait to see if Shelagh can be disentangled, this whale becomes the latest example of the ongoing threat to this species posed by an utter lack of protections.”

The vertical lines used in lobster and crab fishing have been partially blamed for a string of right whale deaths in the Atlantic Ocean. 

“Another female adult right whale is entangled in fishing gear, underscoring the urgent need for DFO to accelerate the transition to ropeless and on-demand fishing gear,” Oceana Campaign Director Kim Elmslie said. “This innovative technology can allow a thriving fishing industry to continue without putting critically endangered whales at risk of entanglement.”

The origin of the rope that is entangling Shelagh has not yet been identified.

"We do not yet know the type of gear that the whale is entangled in or where the gear came from," the DFO said. "Identification of the gear type and its origin are typically only confirmed after investigation and when gear is removed from an animal, when possible."

The critically endangered species has seen a spate of deaths in 2024, including the aforementioned whale found off Massachusetts, one in January from a confirmed vessel strike, and one found in April dead from a suspected vessel strike. The April death marked the 40th since 2017.

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