Fishing Gear Found Entangled Around Dead North Atlantic Right Whale Confirmed To Be From Maine

Necropsy (animal autopsy) of North Atlantic right whale #5120. Credit: NOAA Fisheries. NOAA Fisheries Permit #24539

UPDATE – February 14th: It was confirmed today that the fishing gear wrapped around the North Atlantic right whale found dead off Martha’s Vineyard two weeks ago, was from Maine.

Scientists at the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life reviewed several images of the dead North Atlantic right whale and made a match in the right whale catalog to whale #5120. Experts identified #5120 based on images showing clear matching features, such as callosity patterns and markings. This right whale, the only known calf of Squilla (#3720), was born during the 2021 calving season.

This same whale was added as a serious injury case to the ongoing North Atlantic right whale Unusual Mortality Event (UME) on August 31, 2022, after the first sighting of a serious entanglement. It will now be moved to the mortality total for dead animals documented in the UME. The total number of animals in the UME remains at 122 with 37 dead, 34 seriously injured, and 51 in otherwise poor health.

Gib Brogan, campaign director at Oceana said in a statement: 

“Today the federal government re-confirmed that critically endangered North Atlantic right whales can and do get entangled in fishing gear from Maine. The lobster fishery and the Maine delegation have repeatedly denied culpability for whale entanglements, and they can no longer stand on this fantasy. Maine needs to take responsibility for the harm it is causing to this critically endangered species and find a workable solution instead of denying facts and dragging its feet to make changes. 

Through acoustic, aerial, and visual detection methods, we know that North Atlantic right whales are regularly in Maine waters and that whales are at-risk anywhere ropes are present. 

For more than half of its short life, this young whale suffered from rope embedded in its tail, causing a slow and needless death because our government was unable to enact proper protections to prevent entanglements. In 2022, the Maine delegation delivered what was billed as a ‘Christmas gift’ to the lobster industry by blocking new fishery rules that would have protected these whales until 2029. Because of industry lobbying and Congressional interference, more whales are at-risk of long, slow, gruesome deaths like this one. 

NOAA is long overdue at establishing effective safeguards for North Atlantic right whales that prevent entanglements and simultaneously allow the lobster fishery to operate in a truly sustainable way. 

The other top threat to this species is boat strikes, and North Atlantic right whales swim in immediate danger while President Biden and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo sit on their own proposal to update the vessel speed rule. President Biden must release the vessel speed rule now, before another boat kills another whale.

We can save North Atlantic right whales from extinction, but we need to stop killing them first.”

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute/Michael Moore. Taken Under NOAA Permit #24359.

January 30th: A shocking discovery as a deceased female North Atlantic right whale was found washed up on shore in Edgartown, Massachusetts, today. At this time, it is uncertain what caused the whale’s death.

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has been on the scene and is working closely with Massachusetts Environmental Police and local responders, including the Edgartown Police, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

A necropsy will be performed when weather conditions become more favorable. Preliminary observations indicate the presence of rope entangled around the whale’s tail. Due to the animal’s position, the whale cannot be identified at this time, but she is estimated to be a juvenile due to her size.

According to Oceana, the North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered whales on the planet. Sadly, 36 North Atlantic right whales have been confirmed dead since 2017 in the United States and Canada. Scientists estimate that even a single human-caused North Atlantic right whale death per year threatens the species’ chances of recovery.

“It’s devastating to hear about another loss to North Atlantic right whales,” said Gib Brogan, campaign director of Oceana in the U.S. “This death is even more troubling when it is a female calf that could have gone on to have many calves of her own for decades. The recovery of North Atlantic right whales cannot take any more setbacks. While we don’t know the cause of this calf’s death, entanglement with fishing gear and collisions with boats remain the top threats to the future of North Atlantic right whales.”

”Since 2017, at least 55 North Atlantic right whales have been killed or seriously injured by boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. This latest example should serve as a wakeup call that the status quo is not working,” continued Brogan. “The survival of North Atlantic right whales requires strong leadership in the U.S. and Canadian governments to ensure fishing and boat traffic stop killing the remaining whales.”

“January has started and ended with tragedy for critically endangered North Atlantic right whales,” said Kim Elmslie, campaign director of Oceana in Canada. “A female right whale calf found dead, on the heels of news of another calf struck by a small boat at the beginning of the month, underscores the urgent need for continued, strong and mandatory protection to safeguard these whales from entanglements in fishing gear and ship strikes. With a population of just 356 whales left, each loss significantly impacts the already fragile population.”

Today, there are only an estimated 356 North Atlantic right whales remaining on earth, including a mere 70 breeding females. We must take critical steps to ensure their survival before it’s too late.

“The Canadian government and the shipping and fishing industries must do everything possible to protect these whales from ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement” said Elmslie. “Vessel slowdowns must be permanent, mandatory and in place across right whales’ full migration route. Transitioning to ropeless and on-demand fishing gear allows fishing to continue without putting whales at-risk of entanglement. It also safeguards access to lucrative international seafood markets as required under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. We must protect these whales from extinction.”

Please tell your government officials to take immediate action to protect North Atlantic right whales from extinction by signing Oceana’s petition, HERE!

Please report any sightings of right whales that are injured or entangled to NOAA. Please take photos or videos from the legally required 500-yard distance and note the GPS coordinates to share with biologists.

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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