A heavily entangled North Atlantic right whale covered in wounds and lice is “likely to die,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says.
The 4-year-old whale, identified as #4904, was spotted this past Sunday swimming off North Carolina, east of Rodanthe, with fishing line wrapped around her mouth and tail, Boston’s New England Aquarium said in a press release. The fishing line could be seen trailing behind her as she swam.
After observing photos of the whale, scientists realized the whale was also covered in severe injuries and wounds. As a result, she is likely to die from her injuries, the NOAA said in an update.
Right whales are approaching extinction, with fewer than 350 remaining, the NOAA said. There may be fewer than 100 breeding females, and it is not uncommon for the species to become entangled in fishing gear, one of the major threats the species faces. When a whale becomes entangled like this, the gear can weigh it down and prevent it from swimming and eating properly.
John Hourston, founder of the Blue Planet Society, an ocean conservation campaign group, told Newsweek: “Our heart breaks every time we see a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale entangled in fishing gear. A staggering 80 percent of these whales end up like this. Up to 1 million vertical fishing lines attached to crab and lobster traps litter their migratory routes and foraging areas. Commercial fishing is driving the species to extinction.”
The sighting of this whale comes just days after a dead North Atlantic right whale calf was found floating near Morehead City, along the North Carolina coast. It was estimated to be only a few weeks old, USA Today said.
The entangled whale is the calf of a well-known right whale named Spindle, the New England Aquarium said. That 41-year-old whale was recently spotted swimming in waters off Georgia with a calf. While this was good news, the New England Aquarium said that the new entanglement “speaks to the plight of North Atlantic right whales” as they continue to face growing threats.
Before this week, #4904 was last seen swimming in Massachusetts Bay in May 2022. She was not entangled at the time, so this must have happened in the past eight months.
The NOAA is determining if a disentanglement response is possible. It is occasionally able to initiate de-tangling efforts to help whales like this, but that depends on several factors, including sea conditions and how easily accessible the whale is.
The spotting of #4904 comes a few months after another right whale, Snow Cone—who is well known for being entangled in fishing gear for many months—was seen in September. She looked in very bad shape because of her predicament.
Snow Cone was first spotted entangled in fishing gear in March 2021. A few feet of the rope, which was embedded deeply under her jaw, was removed by rescue teams at the time.
In September, Snow Cone was seen carrying even more layers of fishing gear with her. She was also covered in lice and extremely emaciated. Scientists at the New England Aquarium said at the time that her death was all but certain. Snow Cone has not been seen since.
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