Fog suspends search for humpback whale dragging 45 metres of rope in Bay of Fundy
Rescue crews on standby, analysis of gear removed from right whale near Grand Manan on Sunday continues
Whale rescue crews remain on standby, waiting to search for another entangled whale in the Bay of Fundy after a female humpback with a calf was spotted dragging about 23 metres of rope from each side of her mouth near Digby Neck on Friday.
Heavy fog, which suspended the search for the whale, known as Sabot, is forecast to continue to envelope the bay until Saturday, said Jerry Conway, an adviser with the Canadian Whale Institute and a member of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada plans to continue "regular surveillance flights," spokesperson Lauren Sankey said in an email.
"More information will be shared if the whale is sighted again."
Sabot's entanglement does not appear as alarming as that of the endangered North Atlantic right whale freed Sunday near Grand Manan Island from the two buoys and rope he was dragging for at least a week, Conway said.
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"With the exception of the rope that was passing through her mouth, there didn't seem to be any problem with her moving or getting around," he said, likening the entanglement to a person having dental floss stuck in their teeth.
"She's certainly acting in a normal manner — she's looking after her calf and the prognosis is that if we can get to the animal, we can cut the line away from one side and then pull it out the other side."
The right whale, a 10-year-old male identified as No. 3843, which was observed entangled east of Grand Manan on July 30, was deteriorating quickly and officials feared he might only survive a few months without help.
There are only an estimated 450 North Atlantic right whales left in the world. Of those, only about 100 are breeding females and no calves were born this year.
No. 3843 had lost a significant amount of weight since June, when he was previously seen gear-free in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and officials suspected the entanglement was impeding his ability to feed.
Rescue crews managed to remove most, if not all of the gear, in about 90 minutes, Conway said.
Although the initial sighting involved a single orange buoy, "two buoys and a length of rope" were recovered during the disentanglement, the Fisheries and Oceans Canada spokeswoman said.
Fishery officers with the conservation and protection directorate are investigating their origin, said Sankey.
"This may take some time depending on the amount of information available to [analyze]."
Meanwhile, whale-watching companies are on the lookout for Sabot and rescue crews are "geared up and ready" to resume their search as soon as the fog lifts, said Conway.
The whale hasn't been seen since she was first sighted by a whale-watching company a few miles off Brier Island on Friday around 1 p.m.
She and her calf have been in the area since July 7 and was gear-free as of Thursday, according to the Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises.
"At last sighting of her, the previous day, there was no rope present, so this happened very recently," the company posted on Facebook.
A Canadian Coast Guard boat from Westport, N.S., responded to monitor Sabot until the Campobello rescue team could get there, said Conway.
But the fog rolled in, reducing visibility to less than 1/4 kilometre, and the Coast Guard crew lost sight of the whale.
They weren't able to find her again, and the Campobello team was forced to turn back by around 3:40 p.m., he said.
Conway described the rope trailing about a length and a half behind her as thin, approximately a half-inch, or almost 1.3 centimetres, in diameter, but said he couldn't speculate about its origin or use until a sample is collected.
He pointed out that fishermen aren't the only ones who use rope in the water. Yacht clubs also have vertical lines, he said.
Sabot has been documented in the Bay of Fundy every summer since 2005 and has been seen with a total of six calves over the years, according to Conway.
He isn't sure how old she is, but she was first observed in 1990.