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MARIE-FRANCE LETTRE/CAMPOBELLO WHALE RESCUE TEAM
Members of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team free an endangered whale during a rescue effort earlier this week.

Determined rescue effort saves Right Whale

MARY ELLEN SAUNDERS
TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL
SEPT 22/07

    CAMPOBELLO - A female endangered right whale is swimming a little more comfortably now that a group of Campobello fishermen have cut her free of a fishing rope that was wrapped around her belly.
   She was spotted off the coast of Campobello on Tuesday morning with fishing rope wrapped through her mouth, over her fin and twice around her body. The rope was threatening her life.
   The whale, one of less than 350 of her kind, is one of few known female breeders. She has given birth to two calves.
   As soon as the call came in, the three fishermen and members of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team left their base where they were having their annual meeting with the International Fund for Animal Welfare Canada, who funds the group, and sped off on a small zodiac to save the whale.
   Mackie Greene, captain of the team, said the team quickly got right beside the whale and cut one of the ropes wrapped around its body with a long pole.
   "Right whales are the worse to untangle, they are stubborn, bullish almost," said Greene.
   Once the first cut was made, the team sat on the zodiac in the middle of over 60 right whales playing and swimming beside them, under them and all around them and waited to spot the tangled up whale and make a quick move to get close.
   They waited for over six hours with no more luck.
   Barb Cartwright, with the IFAW, was on a boat nearby watching the excitement and said she was shocked how quickly and precisely the men cut the rope.
   It made the funding the group gives seem all the more worth it.
   "It happened so fast and over the water we could hear Joe ( Howlett) scream `we got it, we got it,' and then'l was born to do this, 'said Cartwright."It was exciting to see the elation from the team and to see her dive down knowing she wac more comfortable and closer to freedom."
   Greene said the cut they made will help free the whale some but he is still waiting for another spotting so the team can go out again and get the job done. The ropes are still binding the whale through the mouth, once around the body and around the tail.
   Right whales, he said, can live for years entangled in fishing gear. This whale was first spotted all tangled up in March of 2007 in Cape Cod. While the ropes may not cause immediate death, he said they tighten, chafe, cut into skin and bone, which can cause infection and kill the whales.
   There is no indication where the fishing gear came from or how the whale got caught up in it.
   The rescue was the first of the whale season in the Bay of Fundy which begins around late June and ends in late November or early December.
   Greene said whale rescue is exhila rating and dangerous, at the time he is only thinking about getting the whale free but afterwards he said it is shocking to think of what just happened.
   "You feel good at the end of the day because there is no one out there that likes to see an animal suffer. It is a service for fishermen. They get painted as bad guys and there is not a fishermen that wants a whale caught in their gear," said Greene."As fishermen, we look at it differently then environmentalists. We feel as strongly about fishermen as we do about whales. If we can successfully untangle them then fishermen don't have to worry and if one does get tangled, we are able so solve the problem."
   Greene, who was an initial member of the team when it started in 2002, said as fishermen and owners or operators of whale watching tours, the team is made up of the best men for the job. They know everything about fishing gear, rope and knots and also a lot about the behaviour of right whales.
   Since 2002 the team has helped untangle 14 whales, including six right whales.
   Cartwright never imagined she would be there when the team got a call, but said it was like winning the lottery to be there for that moment.
   "They are the most endangered large whale in the world and people don't realize how fortunate we are to have them in the Bay of Fundy," said Cartwright. "You could hear them breathing, we were surrounded, the bay was so calm and they would blow out their air so you would hear pffftt and sometimes you could see them and sometimes you couldn't but it's amazing to how they were there. It was beautiful:'
   Cartwright said the right whale is on the Canadian Species at Risk Act and she is waiting for the government to move forward and make the moves to protect them.
   She said the whales need to have a protected habitat which means keeping the area they are in away from danger. The government has already moved the shipping lane away from the whales but more needs to be done to warn pleasure-boaters and fishermen of the danger in striking a whale and how to avoid the situation.
   "Entanglement in fishing gear needs to be mitigated up front and the rescue team needs to be supported so they can go out there and do deal with more entanglements," she said.

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