Nova Scotia lobster gear source of recent right whale entanglement

The right whale known as "Argo" entangled with Canadian lobster fishing gear.

NOAA Fisheries announced the successful disentanglement a North Atlantic right whale from what it identified as lobster gear from Nova Scotia. 

The entangled right whale, named Argo, was an adult male “at least” 42 years old, according to NOAA. The last known sighting of the whale, pre-entanglement, was May 2022. 

NOAA said the whale was spotted with a severe entanglement on 27 January, 2023 off the coast of the U.S. state of North Carolina. Gear was wrapped around the whale’s tail and flukes, and observers found the entanglement was “severe enough that the whale was mostly swimming with its pectoral fins instead of its tail.”

Scientists surveyed and added tracking tags to the gear, and a team consisting of staff from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, and Duke University Marine Lab responded and managed to disentangle the whale. NOAA said it is still determining whether the case is a “serious injury” or a “morbidity” based on severity of the injuries and the entanglement.

The gear consisted of 157 feet of line and two wire mesh traps, which the whale was dragging behind it. After investigating NOAA determined the gear is all from Canadian Lobster Fishing Area 33, off the southern coast of Nova Scotia.

Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Harbor Management Adam Burns told the CBC the evidence the gear was from Canada highlights the importance of accounting for ghost gear.

"This reinforces the importance of our ghost gear retrieval efforts that have been underway now for a few years," Burns said. 

The gear had been correctly reported lost by the fisherman, the DFO said. 

Burns said the circumstances of the entanglement are being investigated, especially how the gear based in Canada was discovered on a whale in North Carolina.

The disentanglement marks the second instance in under a month right whale has had to be rescued from fishing gear. In late January, another right whale, nicknamed “Nimbus,” was found entangled in fishing gear of unknown origin. NOAA has not yet announced any identification of the lines involved.

As they fight against federal regulations intended to require lobster fishing to reduce its risk to right whales, industry representatives from the U.S. state of Maine, as well as elected officials from the state, have claimed right whales rarely encounter lobster-fishing gear.

Maine's lobster fishery recently lost its Marine Stewardship Council certification due to a judge's ruling it is operating in violation of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Canada's lobster fishery has retained its MSC certification.

Photo courtesy of Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute/NOAA Fisheries


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