New Brunswick

Rescue of entangled right whale yearling will be difficult, researcher says

An entangled North Atlantic right whale yearling has been spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Fishermen, Campobello team to take part in effort to disentangle 1-year-old calf in gulf

A grey whale with lacerated body and green fishing rope wrapped around its head and fins floats on the surface of the water.
Starboard, a female North Atlantic right whale, died in 2017 after being entangled in fishing gear. (Peter Duley/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

An entangled North Atlantic right whale yearling has been spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the fourth this year.

In a news release, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said a calf of a right whale known as 3720 was last spotted in March off the coast of Provincetown, Mass.

On Saturday, researchers spotted the the calf from an aircraft 48 nautical miles east of Shippagan, trailing fishing rope and buoys.

"We don't know the origin of the gear at this time, but it ran and got entangled sometime between March and Saturday," said Moira Brown, a member of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team with the Canadian Whale Institute.

Brown said planes will be going out Wednesday and Thursday mornings and taking a couple of flights each day to try to relocate the whale. They can't fly sooner because of the weather, she said.

"Once the whale is re-sighted, then we'll have to come up with a plan on how to get out to it," she said.

She said the Campobello rescue team is travelling to Shippagan and will meet up with a team of fishermen that's been training to disentangle whales.

Brown said a rescue or disentanglement operation would be difficult because the yearling is far from shore.

"We do our whale rescue operations out of 30-foot long boats, rigid-hull inflatable, commonly called Zodiacs," she told Maritime Noon. "So this is this is beyond our operational range under normal circumstances."

This summer, the whales are congregating farther away from the New Brunswick coastline.

"It's really in the middle of nowhere. It's halfway to the Magdalen Islands. It's quite far north of Prince Edward Island. So it's really out in the middle of those waters."

The Campobello Whale Rescue Team is on standby in Shippagan until the weather clears and planes can start searching for the entagled whale. (Nick Hawkins)

But it's likely some whales are gravitating toward that area near Shippagan for food, Brown said.

The calf has "several body lengths" of rope trailing behind it, as well as a couple of buoys with line around the tail, she said.

The whale is young and small, so disentangling it is "doable," as long as it comes closer to shore.

She said rescuers are looking into getting a bigger boat which could help me go out farther into sea. Until the whale is located, her team will be on standby.

The New England Aquarium matched the entangled whale to the yearling born in 2021.

An estimated 336 North Atlantic right whales remain, the Fisheries Department said.

In recent years, changing water temperature and redistribution of plankton have shifted the whales to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they are less protected from fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes — their leading cause of death. In the past, they'd spent summers in the northern Gulf of Maine, Bay of Fundy and Roseway Basin, south of Cape Sable Island.

In 2019, 10 right whales were found dead in Canadian and United States water. In 2020, two right whale deaths were detected, and in 2021, two more. No deaths have been recorded in 2022.

Two entangled whales were seen in July, and one in May. 

Brown said the whale spotted in July, Snow Cone, is still entangled with fishing lines embedded into its body.


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the yearling. It is the calf of a right whale known as 3720.
    Aug 27, 2022 9:09 AM AT

With files from Maritime Noon