Fisheries and Oceans officials are investigating a snow crab trap that was attached to a dead North Atlantic right whale transported to the beaches of New Brunswick's Miscou Island on Monday.
A team of Fisheries science staff, veterinarians, pathologists and marine animal response experts was performing a necropsy Tuesday to determine the exact cause of death, but officials were already describing it as a case of "severe entanglement."
The whale was tightly wrapped in heavy ropes and other fishing gear, including the snow crab trap, and deep cuts were apparent in its body, mouth, fins and blubber.
- Snow crab trap cut from right whale carcass on N.B. island
- Another North Atlantic right whale found dead in Gulf of St. Lawrence
Investigators are trying to determine whether the trap was in use or abandoned gear, said Matthew Hardy, a division manager with the department.
"We'll be looking extensively at the gear, the rope configurations, how it was entangled on the animal," he said.
"It's really a forensic examination to look at the kind of rope, where it might be used and understand where it might have come from."
Researchers have confirmed the dead whale is female, possibly a juvenile, measuring only 11 metres in length. Adults can grow to more than 16 metres in length.
The species is endangered. There are only an estimated 500 North Atlantic right whales left in the world.
At least 13 other North Atlantic right whales have been found dead off the coast of the U.S. and Canada this year, prompting the federal Fisheries Department to close part of the snow crab fishery early and Transport Canada to impose a mandatory slowdown in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for vessels more than 20 metres in length.
The latest carcass brings the number of dead females to at least five.
It's among the smallest recovered to date, said Hardy.
"We want to learn as much as we can about this animal."
- DEEP TROUBLE | Disappearance of right whales from winter breeding grounds a mystery for scientists
- DEEP TROUBLE | Right whale rescuers wary in wake of death, anxious for work to resume
The whale's external injuries will be examined and then it will be dissected to take a closer look at its organs and to collect samples, said Hardy, estimating the process would take about six or seven hours.
"It requires a lot of people, a lot of collabroation between different parties to actually make this happen and to get all this information from these animals, but this is what's going ot lead us to understanding whats going on and hopefully preventing it in the future."
Once the necropsy is complete, the carcass will be buried on the beach, where another dead North Atlantic right whale was buried just a few months ago.
"It's been a very busy and a very different summer in terms of just the sheer number of animals we've had either dead or in trouble," said Tonya Wimmer of the Marine Animal Response Society.
"The hope was that after coming through all of that, we were done with, unfortunately, dealing with dead right whales at the moment. But doesn't seem to be the case."
The carcass was discovered off Miscou Island on Friday morning following a surveillance flight.
Local people who saw the dead whale towed by the Canadian Coast Guard told CBC News a large snow crab net had to be cut off the carcass after it was brought ashore.
A rusted snow crab trap made from rebar with cut lines sat on the beach not far from the dead whale.
After an unprecedented number of deaths this summer, CBC News is bringing you an in-depth look at the endangered North Atlantic right whale. This week, in a series called "Deep Trouble," CBC explores the perils facing the right whales.