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This photo shows a young North Atlantic right whale - one of Canada's most endangered species - that is being closely monitored off the Florida coast following a dramatic rescue effort in which officials from several U.S. wildlife agencies disentangled the creature from a web of fishing lines Dec. 30. The lines were possibly trailed by the whale thousands of kilometres from its summer feeding grounds in Atlantic Canada. PHOTO: SUBMITTED

Wildlife officials attempt to save entangled whale
Endangered It's believed mammal was caught up in fishing gear, possibly from Atlantic Canada

RANDY BOSWELL
POSTMEDIA NEWS
JAN 05/11

    A young North Atlantic right whal representing the future of Canada's most endangered species is being closely monitored off the Florida coast following a dramatic rescue effort in which U.S. wildlife officials disentangled the creature from a potentially deadly web of fishing lines - possibly trailed for thousands of kilometres from the whale's summer feeding grounds in Atlantic Canada.
   Experts from several U.S. conservation agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Florida's state wildlife department, used boats and helicopters to track and untangle the whale from a least 50 metres of rope and other equipment believed to have come from fishing nets or lobster traps in waters far to the north near New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine.
   That's where the world's last population North Atlantic right whales - numbering about 400 individuals - spend! the summer and fall feeding and breeding.
   The whales then migrate to winter and-spring calving areas in the south east U.S., off the Atlantic coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
   It was there - near Daytona Beach or Christmas Day - that a Florida state biologist first spotted the distressed whale, a 10-metre-long juvenile believed to have been born in late 2008 or early 2009.
   "We were very concerned about this whale, as the entangling ropes appeared to be life-threatening," said Jamison Smith, disentanglement co-ordinator with NOAA's fisheries service in a Dec. 31 statement following the rescue mission.
   "However, given the efforts of the disentanglement team, we are optimistic the whale may shed the remaining ropes on its own, so we will continue to monitor its condition via aerial surveys and intervene again if necessary."
   NOAA noted that "because of the speeds at which the animals move and distances they travel, it sometimes takes days or even weeks under ideal weather and oceanographic conditions to safely and successfully free an entangled whale."
   But the initial untangling operation, which also involved the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the New England Aquarium, was wrapped up by Dec. 30 in this case. The U.S. officials said the fishing gear removed from the whale included "ropes and wire mesh material, similar to what is found in the trap or pot fisheries for fish, crab and lobster," in Canadian and northeastern U.S. waters.
   Entanglement in fishing gear is considered one of the key threats to the Survival of the North Atlantic right whale. Ship strikes are another major source of death and injury for the fragile species; both Canada and the U.S. have taken steps in recent years to minimize the fishing and shipping hazards faced by the continent's most vulnerable mammal.
   NOAA sounded alarms in early 2009 about the rising number of North Atlantic right whales found in southeast U.S. waters entangled in fishing gear from the northern part of their migration route. Certain kinds of fishing gear more prone to snagging whales have since been prohibited.
   And the Canadian government is currently funding a $120,000 project involving the World Wildlife Fund and East Coast fishermen to reduce the accidental entanglement of whales in the Bay of Fundy and surrounding waters off southwest Nova Scotia, known to be a key habitat for the species.
   Scientists don't know exactly what the historical population of right whales was before European fishing fleets began targeting Canadian waters in the 1500s. But the North Atlantic right whale - so named because it was deemed the "right" or easiest whale to hunt - is widely seen to have been pushed by humans to the brink of extinction.
   When environmentalists praised the Canadian government in June 2009 for expanding the right whale's formally designated "critical habitat" to the Roseway Basin south of Nova Scotia, concerns were still voiced about the impact of fishing-line entanglements on the imperiled species.
   "More than 75 per cent of right whales have scars indicative of an entanglement in fishing gear at some time in their lives," Rachel Plotkin, a David Suzuki Foundation policy analyst, said at the time.
   "Clearly, the whales are being impacted by us, and we therefore have the power and the responsibility to make the appropriate changes to our activities:'

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