A right whale has injuries scientists believe were caused by entanglement in fishing gear.

A right whale has injuries scientists believe were caused by entanglement in fishing gear.
Photo Credit: Canadian Whale Institute/Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life

Whale entanglements, some good news, and some possible good news


After the shock of finding several dead endangered North Atlantic right whales this summer, some possible good news.

Some 13 endangered North Atlantic right whales have been found dead this summer, ten in the Gulf of St Lawrence, suspected to be victims of ship strikes or fishing gear entanglements and three more were found off the U.S. New England states.

The possible good news is that yet another right whale that had been spotted off the Gaspe coast entangled in gear earlier this week seems to have freed itself.

The whale was spotted on Tuesday, but several overflights of the area along with Coast Guard patrols have failed to relocate the animal. Federal sources say it’s possible the whale freed itself and has joined a pod of 13 whales spotted in the area.

On Tuesday the whale had been identified by the New England Aquarium as a 15-year-old male, number 3245.

Members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are also trying to find the animal but have said it will continue to be considered entangled until there is proof it isn’t.

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic Leblanc says the Canadian government is also trying to locate the gear to determine whether it was in the area legally, or was lost or abandoned, adding that patrols over the area will continue.

In some good news,  a humpback whale which became entangled in a cruise ship anchor chain in Alaska, has been freed.

NOAA-trained marine mammal responders collect a sample from the exhalation of an entangled a humpback whale on Sunday, August 27, near the mouth of Tracy Arm, Alaska.
NOAA-trained marine mammal responders collect a sample from the exhalation of an entangled a humpback whale on Sunday, August 27, near the mouth of Tracy Arm, Alaska. ©  NOAA Fisheries/John Moran NOAA via AP

The 186-ft cruise ship with a capacity of 74 passengers offers one and two week cruises of southeast Alaska. It had been anchored for the night about 70 kilometres south of Juneau.

Several whales had likely been feeding near the ship during the night when one caught the chain in its mouth.

A special team from NOAA arrived at the ship in the morning and used an underwater camera on a pole to assess the situation.

The 35 ft (11m) humpback was determined to be in a life threatening situation although the crew had been keeping the anchor chain from dragging the animal down. The specialists then determined the best course was to cut the anchor chain. It appears the humpback was then able to free itself.

The cruise line said they hope to recover the anchor lying in about 100 feet of water, at a later time.

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One comment on “Whale entanglements, some good news, and some possible good news
  1. Avatar Rose Writes says:

    NOAA has a conflict of interest as a U.S. gov’t agency. USAID funds Wolbachia-infected Aedes releases (which could be at the root of these whales’ mortality). “Chow said the government is upholding its pause on disentanglements, which went into effect after the death of New Brunswick whale rescuer Joe Howlett in July.” Source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/right-whale-entangled-gaspe-peninsula-1.4267108

    It’s been OVER a month. I can understand a week but these whales are generally docile (not vicious, like a bear). We don’t stop rescuing people when firemen or helicopter pilots die in the line of duty.

    But, the U.S. gov’t is heavily invested in Wolbachia-infected mosquito releases (which I believe to be the root cause) so this doesn’t surprise me.

    Dominic LeBlanc “deeply shared my concerns” [I wrote to him Dec. 2016] but he passed my concerns along to Jane Philpott (who never responded to me).

    I highly suspect two things are killing these precious mammals:

    1) Zika, West Nile, or St. Louis encephalitis (whales have been documented to suffer the latter two). All three viruses share the same phylogenetic clade; Zika with > 97 percent support.

    2) About 1/3 of Calanus finmarchicus (Cal fin) has been unnaturally infected via Wolbachia-infected Aedes for ~ 5 years. North Atlantic right whales consume massive quantities of Cal fin as you know. And krill also comprises Aedes aegypti and Culex quinquefasciatus (both are also Zika vectors).

    My reference-based article (with 14 citations): http://www.infobarrel.com/Test_North_Atlantic_Right_Whales_for_WNV_SLEV_ZIKA_and_Wolbachia

    And, those truly responsible may be those funding Wolbachia-infected Aedes releases: Bill & Melinda Gates; Wellcome Trust; Australian, Queensland, UK & Brazilian gov’ts; USAID, Tahija