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