Humpback whale died in 'horrific way' tangled in ropes, trap

Ropes and fishing gear wrapped around a humpback whale discovered in the Bay of Fundy 'very likely' played a role in the animal’s death, says the director of the Marine Animal Response Society.

Marine Animal Response Society hopes to conduct necropsy and track down where the gear originated

This photo of Peajack floating in the Bay of Fundy was provided to the Marine Animal Rescue by the Fundy East Whale Rescue and Sustainable Oceans Applied Research. (Marine Animal Response Society/Facebook)

Ropes and fishing gear wrapped around a humpback whale discovered in the Bay of Fundy "very likely" played a role in the animal's death, says the director of the Marine Animal Response Society. 

Tonya Wimmer was part of a team on a Canadian Coast Guard boat that located the whale Saturday evening, floating in an area between Long Island and Brier Island, N.S. 

Peajack's tail is shown entangled in ropes in this photo posted to the Marine Animal Response Society's Facebook page. (Marine Animal Response Society/Facebook)

"There was a trap on the animal as well, there may be more or an anchor perhaps. The animal was quite weighted down," she said.  "It's a pretty horrific way for this animal to die."

Called Peajack, the whale was a breeding female and a familiar sight in the area for years.

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 animal was entangled in rope and other fishing gear when they found it Saturday. (Submitted by Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises)

Amid high winds Saturday, biologists got as close to the animal as they could — gathering photos, underwater footage and skin samples. 

Wimmer said the society will be working with the Department of Fisheries and Ocean and hopes to tow the animal to shore where they could perform a necropsy with a team from the Atlantic Veterinary College.

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

Getting a closer look at the gear could also help them determine what fishery and country it came from. The trap didn't have any information on it, Wimmer said.  

"We need to understand what happened so that we can work with appropriate people, in both industry and government and others to basically look for solutions so things like this don't happen again," she said. 

The humpback whale, Peajack, was a familiar sight in the Bay of Fundy. (Submitted by Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises)

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. In March, a dead humpback washed ashore near Ogilvie, N.S.

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

"This is a species for which there is an unusual mortality event in the U.S. going on, so we want to understand the impact of the species, throughout its entire [life] range," Wimmer said. 

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

With files from Sarah Haliburton