New Brunswick

Ongoing search for entangled right whale in Bay of Fundy is unprecedented, says expert

The ongoing search for an entangled North Atlantic right whale in the Bay of Fundy is unprecedented, according to a whale expert.

A 10-year-male, last seen Monday, east of Grand Manan, is important to endangered population

The entangled whale's tail stock, exposed here as he prepares to dive, has many abrasions and many cyamids, (whale lice) infesting those wounds, according to the New England Aquarium. (Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium)

The ongoing search for an entangled North Atlantic right whale in the Bay of Fundy is unprecedented, according to a whale expert.

Rescue crews continued to search by air and on the water Thursday for the 10-year-old male, first spotted Monday, east of Grand Manan Island, dragging an orange buoy.

Jerry Conway, who has been involved in whale disentanglement for four decades, says he's never seen this amount of effort and resources go into finding an entangled whale before, "with the exception of some of the work that was done in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last year."

"I would say in the Bay of Fundy, this is the largest effort I have witnessed," said Conway, an adviser with the Canadian Whale Institute and a member of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, who previously served as the marine mammal adviser with The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and was responsible for organizing such searches.

"I'm very pleased."

North Atlantic right whales are an endangered species. There are only an estimated 450 of them left in the world. Of those, only about 100 are breeding females and no calves were born this year.

The entangled whale, identified as No. 3843, is of the breeding age and important to the species' survival, said Conway.

But if rescue crews aren't able to find him soon, he may only survive a few months, according to Scott Landry, director of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response program at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass.

He said the whale's condition has deteriorated quickly between June, when he was photographed gear-free in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Monday's sighting.

'Needle in a haystack'

Jerry Conway, an adviser with the Canadian Whale Institute, said rescue teams, federal officials, whale watching companies and fishermen are all actively searching for the entangled whale. (CBC)

A Department of Fisheries plane, a Canadian Coast Guard inshore patrol vessel and the Campobello rescue boat searched for several hours on Thursday, said Conway.

About a dozen whale watching companies on both sides of the bay and fishermen in the area were also on the look-out.

"So we've got all kinds of eyes out there looking for the whale but unfortunately no one has sighted it," he said. "It's extremely frustrating."

North Atlantic right whales can travel about 30 square kilometres within five minutes so the entangled whale could be a long distance from where it was first spotted, possibly as far as the Gulf of Maine.

"Like the old saying, [it's like] looking for a needle in a haystack," he said.

North Atlantic right whale No. 3843, shown here gear-free on June 6, 2018, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, has been sighted on a number of occasions over the years, but Monday was the first time there has been any indication it's entangled. (Peter Duley/NOAA Fisheries Northeast Fisheries Science Center)

The search is expected to continue over the long weekend, weather permitting, said Fisheries and Oceans spokesperson Stephen Bornais.

Conway commended the federal department for its "tremendous amount of effort."

Since January 2017, there have been at least 18 North Atlantic right whale deaths in U.S. and Canadian waters — 12 off the Canadian coast.