Nova Scotia

North Atlantic right whale freed from fishing trap in Ingonish

People got a rare sighting of the endangered whale off Cape Breton on Monday night when one became trapped in a mackerel trap.

Mackerel fishers opened up trap to free agitated whale Monday night

A young North Atlantic right whale was spotted stuck in a mackerel trap off Ingonish on Monday night. (Marine Animal Response Society/Facebook)

An endangered North Atlantic right whale had a close call Monday night near Ingonish in Cape Breton after it got trapped in a fishing net.

"We saw the whale surfacing, swimming freely inside the trap," said Kinnon MacKinnon, who captains Keltic Express Zodiac Adventures. "Kind of rolling around, it seemed a little bit confused."

He says local fishers went to the area and people gathered to watch from the shoreline.

MacKinnon says the net's owner was able to open the mackerel trap, but initially the whale didn't find the exit. Eventually they were able to create a wider opening and the whale swam out.

It was all over in less than an hour. 

People fishing in the area opened the trap so the whale could swim out. (Marine Animal Response Society/Facebook)

"Everybody is pretty pleased the way it was not harmed," says MacKinnon. "We did see him swimming freely about a mile away with the great big tail in the air. I think he was saying goodbye."

Andrew Reid, who co-ordinates the Halifax-based Marine Animal Response Society, says the quick response was key to ensuring the whale wasn't hurt.

"If the whale decided to make a break for it, it could've ended up entangled, which is a much more difficult situation to deal with," he says.

Reid says once or twice a year, whales get trapped in fishing nets.

"It usually does end well. Fishermen are very interested in releasing the whale as well. They don't want their gear damaged and don't want to entangle a whale," he said.

There are only 400 North Atlantic right whales and typically, they feed around the Bay of Fundy this time of year.

MacKinnon says only a handful have been spotted around Ingonish in the past few years. This sighting makes two in the past week.

Reid says they hope to determine exactly which whale it was, since researchers track the animals to learn more about their habits.