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Recent Deaths, Entanglement Shine Light on Right Whale Plight

Sep 28, 2016
Originally published on September 28, 2016 4:28 pm

The recent death of two right whales in the Gulf of Maine and the discovery of another entangled in fishing gear is bringing renewed attention to the plight of the endangered species.

Last Thursday, a right whale was spotted off Provincetown, Mass., swimming, but entangled in gear. Friday, a dead female whale was seen off Boothbay and towed to shore, where its death was determined to be from stress caused by entanglement. Saturday a dead whale was spotted off Mount Desert Rock, but could not be recovered.

With only about 500 right whales left in the world, scientists and other mariners rushed to document the deaths and help the still-living whale. They were able to remove more than 200 feet of gear and buoys from that animal, which swam on. And they found an important piece of information — a U.S. based fishing license on one of the buoys.

Federal officials declined to release more information about that license, pending further investigation, in part to determine whether gear rules were followed.

Michael Moore, a scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, says continued entanglements indicate that current rules need work.

“This is a significant problem that has been worked on very, very hard, and the fishermen and the fisheries and the stakeholders have been put through an enormous amount of gear-change stress in order to make a more whale-friendly fishery. But we’re not out of the woods in any means,” he says.

Scientists hope to relocate the Provincetown whale to determine whether it has managed to shuck the rest of the gear it had taken on.

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