New England

Right whale calf found entangled with life-threatening injuries off coast of Canada

The North Atlantic Right Whale yearling was discovered by research scientists from the New England Aquarium

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA permit 26919

An endangered right whale calf with life-threatening entanglement injuries was discovered by a team of scientists from the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life on Saturday.

The North Atlantic right whale species has been increasingly impacted by dangerous entanglement cases like this one.



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The research team found this calf near Miscou Island, New Brunswick, Canada, entangled in rope across her back, through her mouth, around her flipper, and trailing behind her. Aquarium researchers Kate McPherson and Kelsey Howe spotted the whale and followed her closely to assess her injuries.

“On her first surfacing there was just enough water running off her back to make me unsure of what I was seeing, but as she dove it became very clear that there was rope over her back,” said McPherson, in a statement from the New England Aquarium. “My heart sank instantly as I alerted the rest of the boat that we had an entangled whale; this is the last thing any of us wants to see when we are out surveying.”

The calf was previously tagged and researchers were able to determine she is the offspring of a whale named "War." The calf is about a year and a half old.

Before this sighting, the yearling was last seen on February 16, 2024, off the Southeast United States. At that point the calf was not yet snarled in the rope, and it's not clear when or where the entanglement occurred.

War was first seen in 1988, making her at least 35 years old. War has seven known calves. The family has experienced at least nine entanglements and one vessel strike injury in the time researchers have tracked them.

Since 1980, over 1,800 entanglements have been documented, increasing over time in frequency and severity. Scientists attribute this increase to the lack of whale-safe fishing technologies and strategies, specifically in Canadian fishing gear.

“This latest case, which continues to be a chronic problem facing this species, highlights the critical need to maintain forward momentum on the implementation of modified fishing gear throughout their range in Canada and the U.S. in order to prevent these complex and potentially lethal entanglements from occurring,” said Amy Knowlton, senior scientist in the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center.

The species is one of the most endangered in the world, with an estimated population of only 360 remaining. This incident of entanglement is unfortunately all too common for North Atlantic right whales.

Since Saturday, scientists have followed the whale closely and were able to attach a trailing buoy to track her location via satellite. Disentanglement and rescue efforts are underway, and her location is being closely monitored.

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