New Brunswick

Whale rescuers head into gulf in search of entangled North Atlantic right whales

The Campobello Whale Rescue Team headed out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Tuesday in its first attempt to locate and disentangle an imperilled North Atlantic right whale.

Federal officials say 3 whales in Gulf of St. Lawrence are entangled

Members of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team prepare to make their first trip into the Gulf of St. Lawrence in search of three entangled North Atlantic right whales. (Radio-Canada)

The Campobello Whale Rescue Team headed out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Tuesday in its first attempt to locate and disentangle an imperilled North Atlantic right whale.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that as of Monday, officials had spotted three members of the endangered species that have become entangled in the gulf.

The team left Campobello Island for Shippagan on Monday morning. On Tuesday, they readied a Zodiac, waited for the weather to clear and ventured into the gulf to try to find one of the whales.

Mackie Greene, the rescue team director, said it will be one of several trips from shore this week.

"We have three entangled whales, so that's a big plate for us to handle," Greene said from the Shippagan harbour.

He's hoping the crew can find one or two of the whales and get a chance to free them from any rope. 

Challenge ahead

But finding them will be tricky.

He said the rescuers don't have any balloons or visual markings to help them locate the whales on the surface. Instead, they must rely on airplanes to spot them and then move quickly to that area.

Mackie Greene is the rescue team director for the Campobello Whale Rescue Team. (Radio-Canada)

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are providing aerial surveillance.

Greene said the teams will be bringing local fishermen, one at a time, on their runs into the gulf this week in hopes of training a whale rescue team on the Acadian Peninsula. 

A photo released by the federal government shows one of the entangled whales with a line of rope trailing line behind the animal.

"We have long poles that we can put a whole bunch of different cutting attachments on," Greene said. 

"So, we're actually trying to get close enough to that whale so we can reach out with our poles, and the cutters have a hook on them. So we can hook the rope and, as we pull back or the whale swims away, it'll cut the line."

A Fisheries and Oceans Canada boat will remain nearby to provide support, if needed.

Greene said Monday that the odds on disentangling all three whales aren't favourable. 

Protective measures

On Monday, Transport Canada announced additional measures to protect the endangered whales.  

The measures include further reducing ship speeds in the area, increasing zones in which the speed restrictions will apply, increasing aerial surveillance and funding for initiatives to enhance marine mammal response.

After a year in which there were no North Atlantic right whale deaths in Canadian waters, there have been six reported deaths in 2019. The situation is renewing fears raised in 2017, when 12 dead right whales were found in the gulf.

Officials on a Transport Canada plane spotted the first right whale east of Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula. It appeared to have rope trailing from both sides of its head down its body, but the animal has not yet been identified.

In this April 10, 2008, file photo, a North Atlantic right whale dives in Cape Cod Bay near Provincetown, Mass. Six of the endangered whales have died in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this year. (Stephan Savoia/Associated Press)

The second whale was spotted by a researcher east of Miscou Island. It appeared to be trailing a line of rope from underneath its body. Officials said they believe the animal, known as No. 4423, was previously entangled in U.S. waters in April.

The third whale, No. 4440, was spotted east of Miscou by the coast guard and DFO. It had rope around its tail stock and appeared to be dragging something heavy.

All three whales were spotted in areas already closed to fishing, officials said. Certain zones of the St. Lawrence have been closed to fishing to lower the risk of whale entanglement. 

Corrections

  • In an earlier version of this story, the number of one of the entangled whales was incorrectly given as No. 4400. It is No. 4440.
    Jul 11, 2019 11:16 AM AT

With files from Radio-Canada and Elizabeth Fraser

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