Florida-based aircrew spots endangered right whale entangled in fishing rope with new calf – CBS Miami
MIAMI (CBSMiami / AP) – Scientists have spotted an endangered right whale dragging a length of fishing rope stuck in its mouth as it swam with a newborn off the coast of Georgia, rare confirmation of a birth by a tangled whale that experts have determined they can not safely try to help.
Snow Cone, born in 2005, was sighted with her newborn in the waters off Cumberland Island, Georgia, by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aerial team on December 2.
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The baby whale appeared healthy and unharmed when the Florida-based aerial survey team spotted it alongside its trapped mother.
It was the second newborn right whale confirmed to be in the Atlantic waters of the southeastern United States during the species’ calving season, which typically runs from December to March.
North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered, with scientists estimating fewer than 350 surviving. Adult females migrate to the warmer waters off Georgia and Florida each winter to give birth.
Biologist Clay George of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said he was aware of only one other confirmed report, from January 2011, of an entangled right whale seen with a newborn baby – and that we finally managed to free ourselves.
The female whale spotted last week, identified by the unique markings on its head, has been dragging a fishing rope since at least March. It was then that it was first reported entangled in Cape Cod Bay, off the coast of Massachusetts. Wildlife experts were able to shorten the rope before the whale headed south, but were unable to free it.
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“We haven’t seen a chronically entangled whale come here from the north and have a calf,” said George, adding: “It’s amazing. But on the other hand, it could end up being a death sentence. for her.
That’s because the mother whale may have trouble nursing her calf and still have the energy to keep dragging the fishing line while trying to recover from potential mouth injuries, George said. Female right whales typically force-feed in the waters where they feed and mate off New England and Canada before heading south to give birth. They won’t eat until they return – a round trip that can take three months or more.
Responders trained in a boat approached the mother whale and her calf on Thursday. After consulting with other experts, said George, the response team concluded that any attempt to remove or further shorten the fishing rope would pose too great a risk to the whales and the boat’s crew.
Watchers who scan the waters daily for whales and their babies during calving season plan to keep an eye on the pair.
“What worries me is that she still has two pieces of rope, about 20 feet long, sticking out from the left side of her mouth,” said George. “If those two pieces of rope ended up knotting and there was a loop, you might imagine that the calf might end up tangling.”
Scientists and advocates from the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium said in October that they suspected marine mammals had lost nearly 10% of their population last year, with their total numbers dropping to around 336.
Right whales were decimated during the days of commercial whaling, when they were hunted for their oil. Now scientists say entanglement with fishing gear and collisions with ships are killing right whales faster than they can reproduce.
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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)