Nova Scotia

Dead humpback whale off the coast of Brier Island appears to be entangled

Marine Animal Response Society was headed out Saturday with Canadian Coast Guard to search for the remains of the animal, known locally as Peajack, in the Bay of Fundy area.

Whale had rope of some kind on it, according to whale watcher

Peajack, a female humpback whale, was found dead off the coast of Brier Island, N.S., on Friday. The Marine Animal Response society said the ballooning in is the tongue of the animal, which becomes swollen in the decomposition process. (Submitted by Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises)

A dead humpback whale found Friday off the coast of Brier Island, N.S., appears to be entangled in some kind of rope, says the director of the Marine Animal Response Society.

"The information we received yesterday from one of the local whale watchers is that the animal did appear to have some gear on it and so what we are trying to do today is work with the Canadian Coast Guard to be able to have a look," Tonya Wimmer said Saturday.

She and other members of MARS were about to board a Canadian Coast Guard boat to search for the animal, known locally as Peajack, in the Bay of Fundy area.

"They have a larger vessel so that means we can have a larger search area."

She said the goal is to find the whale, which was a breeding female, and check to see what kind of rope is on the animal or any other type of gear.

"It is floating, that's a bit of a challenge. It's not like it is onshore where we can have a complete look at it."

The organization says there were reports of two other dead humpback whales earlier this summer, one in the Bay of Fundy area and the other off the Magdalen Islands, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Shelley Lonergan, chief naturalist with the Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises, said Friday she has been seeing Peajack in the area since 1995.

Peajack had had two calves since then, Lonergan said.

In this file photo, Peajack is seen next to a Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises tour boat. (Submitted by Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises)

"It's kinda tough, because you do get kind of attached to them. You feel connected with them. Especially with Peajack. She was a whale who was very curious. So she would approach the boat and she'd have a look at people," said Lonergan.

"So she became kind of special to everyone in the whale watching community."

In a Facebook post, MARS is asking people to keep an eye out for the whale and report its location, if observed, as the animal's location may move with the tides.

The group advised not to approach the carcass when it's floating or if it lands on a beach, as it may roll unpredictably in the waves or carry diseases.

In this file photo, the humpback whale, Peajack, breaches the water. (Submitted by Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises)

Humpback whales are classified as a species of special concern under the Canadian Species at Risk Act.

Along with the threats posed by ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement, Lonergan said that the whales are also at risk of starvation, which she said may be connected to herring fishing.

"We're seeing a lot of skinny whales. It's scary. This time of year, they should be nice and fat," she said. 

"These whales, there's just so much against them. When you see a dead humpback on the Bay of Fundy, it just hits home that these whales are in trouble. Every species of whale."

Protection measures for right whales working, DFO says

Seventeen North Atlantic right whales died last year, 12 of them in Canadian waters.

With concerns the species was headed toward extinction, the federal government introduced protection measures, including boat speed restrictions, increased surveillance and a series of closures of fishing areas where right whales were spotted.

The closures affected fishermen who harvest lobster, crab, groundfish, herring and mackerel, with fixed-fishing gear that can entangle whales.

Friday, officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said those measures to protect the species worked.

The department said no right whales died from ship strikes or fishing gear entanglement in Canadian waters this year.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

With files from Sarah Haliburton