New Brunswick

Right whale freed from fishing gear in Bay of Fundy

An endangered right whale that was freed from fishing lines in the Bay of Fundy near Campobello Island over the weekend has been dubbed FDR, after former U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt.

Entanglement of 12-metre right whale spotted near Campobello Island worst scientist has seen

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      An endangered right whale that was freed from fishing lines in the Bay of Fundy near Campobello Island over the weekend has been dubbed FDR, after former U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt.

      The six-year-old male whale was severely entangled. "I've never seen a whale with so many lines on it," said Moira Brown, senior scientist for the Canadian Whale Institute on Campobello Island, who was on the rescue mission Saturday morning.

      It had 5/8-inch polyblend line wrapped around its head and flippers, through the baleen and around its body. Two orange, polyester flotation balls were also cinched to its body, just behind the blowholes.

      The rescue took about five hours, said Brown. "It was a long operation."

      Researchers hope that this whale, facing life-threatening physical challenges, has the good fortune of its namesake and survives.- Tony  LaCasse , New England Aquarium 

      A short amount of line remains in the baleen and the whale is in poor condition, but officials remain hopeful.

      Just two years ago, the same whale, previously identified by New England Aquarium right whale scientists as 4057, was freed from another marine gear entanglement off of Georgia.

      "​The Campobello/Georgia connection was not lost on the aquarium whale researchers," spokesman Tony LaCasse said in a statement on Monday. "They decided to name #4057 after Campobello's most famous resident ever, who also had nearly died here one summer and shared an affinity for spending winters in the warmer waters of Georgia."

      Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) contracted polio at Campobello in the summer of 1921 and spent many winters in Warm Springs, Georgia where he established a treatment center for the disease.

      "​Researchers hope that this whale, facing life-threatening physical challenges, has the good fortune of its namesake and survives and goes on to contribute to the recovery of the most endangered large whale species in the Atlantic," the statement said.

      Challenging work

      A vessel from the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station spotted the estimated 12-metre North Atlantic right whale near the Canada-U.S. border and called in a nearby New England Aquarium boat carrying right whale researchers.

      They stood by while the volunteer Campobello Whale Rescue Team was called in at about 11 a.m. Brown, fishermen Joe Howlett and Mackie Greene, and retired fisheries manager Jerry Conway responded in a seven-metre inflatable rescue boat.

      It was ​one of the most severely entangled whales any of them had ever seen over many decades of working on the water.

      Fisherman Mackie Greene describes how he helped rescue a whale tangled in fishing gear Car expert Doug Bethune takes listener calls 52:51

      "We have specialized cutting tools which are knives that are hook-shaped but that are sharpened on the inside. Quite frankly we lost count after we made 10 cuts on this whale," said Brown.

      Since the whale was constantly diving down and coming back up, the rescuers had a small window to cut the lines.

      "You are on the fly, you are moving while this is happening, so you probably get 15 to 20 seconds to try to get in and you try to pick the right rope too, and actually locate it and try to get the knife on it and cut it. So, it's pretty hard sometimes," said Greene.

      Once the whale was free, it swam off as fast as it could, he said.

      Only 500 in region

      The North Atlantic right whale is found across the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia and Gulf of St. Lawrence to the coast of Florida.

      There are only 500 of this species remaining in the entire North Atlantic region. They are most commonly found in the Bay of Fundy during the summer time.

      Brown said whales getting tangled in fishing gear is a common occurrence.

      "Of our catalogued whales, 83 per cent of them have scars on their bodies from entanglement," she said.

      "The worst case scenario is the whale can't get to the surface, where it can breathe, and it can die in the gear. And the best case scenario is that it sheds the gear on its own," she said.

      Seeking solutions

      She said they have been looking for a solution for 20 years now.

      "In the U.S., they have come up with a couple of different solutions, by changing the rope over from the rope that floats to rope that sinks. But the right whales dive down very deeply to 600 to 700 metres that we know of. It's very dark down there they just can't see it and they can stumble into it," Brown said.

      She said the problem isn't as frequent in the Bay of Fundy as fishing happens in the winter season when the whales aren't in the bay.

      The whale rescue team consists of a volunteer team of fishermen who work alongside scientists from the Canadian Whale Institute to rescue tangled whales.

      "We get at least two to three entanglements a year," Greene said.

      The program is funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, one of the largest animal welfare and conservation charities in the world.