Untangling the North Atlantic right whale

[Update – we received some good news on January 21]
The young whale, thought to have been born in 2009, was spotted trailing fishing gear off Florida – where at this moment right whales are giving birth to the next generation. A sad reminder to all the people and organizations fighting to save this endangered species that these babies face an unpredictable and potentially dangerous future.
The animal off Florida was thought to be severely entangled. These images, created by Scott Landry, a member of the disentanglement team with the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, gives a preliminary idea of the possible extent of the entanglement.

RW right profileRW left profile
(c) S. Landry, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies
Lines are possibly wrapped around both its flippers and through one of its most important structures, the baleen. As a result, its movement and feeding are compromised and this animal is in critical condition. It’s a horrible way to live and an even more horrible way to die.
Highly trained disentanglement teams, some of the most dedicated people I know, have been attempting to get the gear off the animal. They’ve attempted to sedate the animal and have been able to get much of the rope off but given the way the animal is caught up, no one can predict the outcome. Click here to see video and images of what these somewhat insane but highly dedicated and amazing people do.

rwDisentanglement team
(c) Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Everyone I know who does disentanglement would love to be out of a job. They would love to not get a call about an entangled whale and work furiously over days to months to free it, all the while watching its condition get worse and its health deteriorate.
Studies indicate that over 70 percent of living right whales bear scars from being entangled, however, only a few animals are reported entangled each year. This means that entanglements are happening more often than is reported and therefore efforts need to focus on preventing entanglements from occurring.
For several years now, we have been working with Canadian fishermen and other partners to better understand the extent and nature of the issue in our waters.
As an initial step, lobster fishermen along Nova Scotia’s south shore have voluntarily implemented practices aimed at reducing the amount of excess and loose rope in the water column – rope which could pose a threat to swimming and feeding whales. Here is an example of how it works:
We are continuing to work with industry to address this issue as well as with academic partners to better understand the overlap between right whales and fishing activities. This work will be critical to working with the federal government to develop an action plan to address this threat.
For more information about our work on this issue and how you can help, please visit our right whale page.