Right whale's death caused by entanglement in Canadian gear, says conservation group
Necropsy found no evidence of vessel strike; no signs of disease
The death of a 40-year-old male North Atlantic right whale found floating in U.S. waters was caused by entanglement in Canadian fishing gear.
That is the finding of a necropsy performed by the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society.
The whale, called Snake Eyes, was named by researchers for two bright white scars on the front of his head.
He was last seen entangled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Aug. 6 about 90 kilometres northeast of the Magdalen Islands.
His carcass was spotted on Sept. 16. about six kilometres south of Fire Island Inlet of Long Island, N.Y. The remains were dragged ashore and a five-hour necropsy was performed by 17 scientists on Sept. 18.
"When they did the necropsy they looked at where the wraps were, where marks were, and they seemed to line up pretty well with what they had seen in August," said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesperson Jennifer Goebel.
The necropsy found no evidence of a vessel strike and there were no signs of disease indicating death from natural causes.
The whale was seen unentangled in the Gulf on July 16. He wasn't seen again after Aug. 6 until his carcass was found.
"So that would make it quite likely to be Canadian gear," Goebel said.
First confirmed death by entanglement
Snake Eyes is believed the first right whale this year whose death has been determined to be caused by entanglement.
Earlier in the summer, three whales were found dead due to vessel strikes. Three other right whales were also seen entangled in the Gulf this summer, but were either partially or completely freed.
At the time Snake Eyes was first seen entangled, rough weather prevented whale rescue crews from going out, Goebel believes.
"I know that Canadian responders were alerted at the time," she said. "I don't know if they were able to mount a response. I understand that the sea conditions were challenging at that time."
CBC News attempted to contact both the Canadian Whale Institute and Campobello Whale Rescue but have not received a response.
In total eight whales have been found dead in Canadian waters in 2019.
Scientists estimate there are only about 400 North Atlantic right whales left in existence with fewer than 100 breeding females.
Snake Eyes was a mature male, so Goebel said it is likely he fathered several calves over the course of his life.
"According to our population estimates the survival of the species depends on no more than one whale [death] per year. And in the past three years we've documented at least 30 right whales that have died. So it is a very difficult situation that we find ourselves in."