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Team will attempt to disentangle right whale

By NINA CHIARELLI
Telegraph-Journal
July 10/03

   A right whale so seriously entangled in lobster gear near Campobello Island is in a life-threatening position, says the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' marine mammal adviser.
   Jerry Conway said a mature North Atlantic right whale, about 16.5 metres long and weighing 60 tonnes, was discovered Wednesday morning with its tail entangled in lobster gear, rope and a buoy about three to four miles off the lighthouse side of Campobello Island.
   Mr. Conway, the department's coordinator of disentangling, returned to on-call duty during a scheduled holiday to dispatch local whale experts to the whale's last known site Wednesday afternoon. He said the entanglement was so serious the whale was having difficulty foraging and feeding because of its inability to dive, which was severely restricted by the gear.
   Mr. Conway dispatched Mackie Green, a local Campobello Island fisherman and commercial whale watching operator, and a team of two others to attempt the disentangling.
   Mr. Green's credentials include a course taken by the Centre for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass., the area's foremost expert organization that logs and follows all entanglements in the Bay of Fundy.
   Mr. Green and his team were trying to locate the whale Wednesday to affix a radio beacon to the gear that would indicate via a satellite its position in the bay.
   "It's a very dangerous situation for anybody to try and disentangle a what in the first place," Mr. Conway said. "We wouldn't try it at night. And it's all weather dependent.
   The North Atlantic right whale is an endangered species. With only about 300 right whales left in the world, and only about 75 breeding females, every entanglement is a threat to the whale population's stability. It is not known whether the entangled whale is male or female.
   Scientists and researchers were only able to untangle one right whale last summer, though as many as eight were believed entangled, five in the Bay of Fundy alone.
   Collisions with ships and gear entanglements are the leading causes of death that diminish the small whale population annually.
   Entanglements are typical each year, as the right whales migrate from the southern United States to the Bay of Fundy in the summer. The phenomenon is not limited to right whales. The species-at-risk office of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Halifax gets reports of other whales such as humpbacks, finbacks and minkes, as well as marine animals such as the harbour porpoise getting tangled in fishing gear.
   The Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass., is currently tracking an entangled humpback whale, Mr. Conway said.

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