In just the past two weeks, two separate North Atlantic right whales have been discovered tangled in fishing gear off the U.S. East Coast.
The whales, which are one of the most endangered species on the planet – with only 400 estimated to be left – were spotted on 11 October and 19 October. Both whales were badly entangled when spotted, to the point that without intervention, death is likely, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
The first whale spotted is a juvenile male that was spotted off the coast of New Jersey, according to an IFAW press release. That whale has not been seen since, and according to the IFAW was so badly entangled that the injuries will likely be fatal. The juvenile male was the calf of “Dragon,” a breeding female that was last seen in February 2020 suffering similarly life-threatening entanglement, and is presumed dead.
The newest entangled whale was spotted off the coast of Massachusetts during an aerial survey. Identified as the male whale “Aquarium,” the entanglement consisted of gear wrapped around his head. The Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team from the Center for Coastal Studies managed to remove part of the gear and attached a tracking buoy to monitor the animal’s location, but full disentanglement couldn’t be achieved.
“A team of experienced whale veterinarians and biologists from IFAW have been asked to provide veterinary support for this ongoing disentanglement effort, given how challenging this case is,” the group said . “IFAW maintains a custom-built remote drug delivery device capable of administering sedatives that can help slow whales like this down enough to improve the chances that the response team gets better opportunities for a successful disentanglement.”
The method for protecting the endangered whales from fishing gear has been the subject of petitions for vertical-line fishing closures, court rulings declaring the American lobster fishery in violation of the Endangered Species Act and calling for closures to certain gear types, international disputes between Canada and the U.S., and more.
With the latest entanglement spotting, five right whales have been involved with either entanglements or vessel strikes in 2020, with one confirmed and three suspected deaths.
Photo courtesy of NOAA