Crews were scanning waters in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Monday in a bid to find an endangered North Atlantic right whale snarled in fishing line and buoys, just days after a humpback whale was successfully disentangled from a length of rope.
Moira Brown of the Canadian Whale Institute said the right whale was first seen at about 11 a.m. Friday during a surveillance flight and did not have any gear on it. Several hours later, the same whale was spotted near Miscou Island, N.B., with a couple of small buoys and rope trailing along both sides. She said it also had fresh abrasions and appeared to have blood on its tail.
The flight by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could only stay on scene for about 10 minutes, but had to leave as it needed to refuel. Subsequent flights the following day could not find the animal.
“We know we have an entangled whale out there after the end of the crab season, but we don’t know what kind of gear is on it,” she said. “This was a very fresh entanglement.”
Brown, who is based in Campobello, N.B., said the whale — a male who was born in 2003 and is known as #3312 — appeared to be agitated and thrashing when it was spotted. But she said the difficulty is that entangled whales often “take off,” making it hard to locate them again.
A spokeswoman with the federal Fisheries Department said the whale was last seen Friday, but that the search will continue in the southern gulf.
“Regular surveillance will continue and more information will be shared if the whale is sighted again,” Lauren Sankey said in an email Monday.
The incident marks the first known entanglement of the season in the gulf, where the endangered species migrates in the summer months to feed after calving off the southern U.S.
The discovery of the entangled animal came a day before a humpback calf was freed from a mess of fishing line in the Bay of Fundy just off of Brier Island, N.S.
The Marine Animal Response Society said on its Facebook page that the Campobello Whale Rescue Team carried out the difficult rescue on Saturday, a year after it lost one of its members during the disentanglement of a right whale.
Brown said a seabird cruise boat saw the whale and reported it to the rescue group, which assembled a boat and went out to the site. A coast guard cutter was also on scene to monitor the struggling humpback who was with its mother — named Pierce — and a third humpback.
She said the calf had blue rope wrapped behind the blow holes and around the head, which was being held down slightly by a weight on the line.
“It had trouble lifting its head and at one point they thought one of the whales was actually underneath the calf, trying to lift it up a bit,” Brown said. “The mom was very protective of the calf and was always trying to stay between the whale rescue boat and the calf.”
She said the team was able to get close enough to use a knife on the end of a pole to cut one of the head wraps, which released the weight from the calf and allowed it to swim normally. They then used a grapple to cut the remaining line off the right side.
Joe Howlett died during the rescue of a North Atlantic right whale on July 10, 2017. Howlett and Mackie Greene helped found the Campobello team in 2002, and the organization has rescued about two dozen whales over the past 15 years.