New Brunswick

9th right whale reported dead off N.S. may have been counted twice, so total stays at 8

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says its tweet that a ninth North Atlantic right whale has been found dead "was premature."

'The whale spotted yesterday may be one previously sighted and reported to the public and media,' DFO says

Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear have been identified or suspected in the deaths of North Atlantic right whales in recent years. (Center for Coastal Studies/NOAA)

A Department of Fisheries and Oceans official says photos will be used to determine if a dead North Atlantic right whale floating off Nova Scotia has already been counted among the eight dead so far this year. 

Earlier in the day, the department said its tweet stating a ninth North Atlantic right whale had been found dead "was premature."

DFO had said a ninth North Atlantic whale was sighted on Sunday off eastern Cape Breton, and it would try to retrieve it and conduct a necropsy on Monday.

Matthew Hardy, a division manager of fisheries and ecosystems science with DFO, said the confirmed tally remains at eight dead pending photo identification.

Two right whales were recently found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

A male right whale was spotted drifting in the Gulf of St. Lawrence during an aerial surveillance flight, the department said on Friday, marking the seventh right whale to die in Canadian waters in 2019.

Initial findings of a necropsy performed in Grand-Étang, Que., over the weekend show there is no evidence the whale was entangled in fishing gear.

More results were expected be released on Monday, and a full report is expected within a month.

Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, right, on Monday met with crews flying over and monitoring the Gulf of St. Lawrence for right whales. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Jonathan Wilkinson, the federal fisheries minister, visited an airport hanger in Dieppe, N.B., on Monday to thank some of the 200 or so people directly involved in monitoring the gulf for whales.

Each day, up to five aircraft are used for that purpose. The minister said crews have spent about 1,150 hours in the air as part of surveillance efforts since April. 

Whale carcass not located 

The other whale found dead last month off Glace Bay, N.S., was identified as a right whale on Friday.

The carcass was spotted on June 24 by a fish harvester, but DFO was not able to confirm what it was until Friday.

That whale did not have a necropsy because its carcass has not been located.

A necropsy on the seventh right whale to die in Canadian waters in 2019 was being performed in Grand-Étang, Que., over the weekend. (Isabelle Damphousse/Radio-Canada)

Meanwhile, two five-year-old male whales, No. 4423 and 4440, were partially disentangled by rescuers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last week. 

Rescuers were able to partially remove fishing gear on No.4423 and cut the rope from No. 4440's mouth and tail on July 17. 

Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear have been identified or suspected in the deaths of other North Atlantic right whales in recent years. 

The body of a male right whale was spotted drifting off Magdalen Islands on Thursday. (Isabelle Damphousse/Radio-Canada)

Earlier this month, Transport Canada announced additional measures to protect the endangered whales from fatal ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

The department said it will keep the measures in place "while continuing to evaluate actions to protect the North Atlantic right whales." 

"We will have to see how well they are working, but they certainly are far more aggressive than even what we put into place before which many thought were very aggressive at the time," Wilkinson said when asked if further restrictions would be imposed. 

The minister indicated about 17 vessels have exceeded the speed limit imposed on ships in the gulf so far this year. He said most of those have been vessels going barely above the limit, likely as a result of waves. 

"We're worried about people who are either consciously ignoring and going much too fast, or who or are simply not aware," he said.

Transport Canada surveillance planes flown over the Gulf of St. Lawrence to monitor for right whales. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Transport Canada announced last week it had fined a vessel named Big Eagle $6,000 for allegedly violating a speed limit imposed to protect right whales in the gulf. 

There are about 400 North Atlantic right whales left. 

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

With files from Shane Magee

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