Endangered right whale gives birth while entangled in fishing gear
A female North Atlantic right whale entangled in fishing gear for months has given birth to a healthy calf, but scientists fear for the little family’s long-term well-being.
The mother whale, nicknamed Snow Cone, was first seen dragging a fishing line behind her in Plymouth Bay in Massachusett in March, according to a statement released Friday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rescuers managed to remove some, but not all, of the rope from her before she left the bay.
Further attempts were made to free her in May and June, but Snow Cone resisted their efforts and was “evasive and strong”, said Mackie Greene of the New York-based Campobello Whale Rescue team. Brunswick, to CBC News.
No one knew at the time that Snow Cone was pregnant. But earlier this month, scientists spotted Snow Cone — still pulling a thick, heavy rope from its mouth — with a newborn calf off the coast of Georgia.
NOAA scientists were both “surprised and concerned” that Snow Cone managed to give birth while entangled, according to the agency’s statement.
The calf is healthy, unharmed and not caught in the rope, but scientists fear the baby could also become entangled.
“My fear is [Snow Cone’s] still has two pieces of rope, about 20 feet, coming out of the left side of its mouth,” Clay George, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologist, told The Associated Press. “If those two pieces of rope ended up knotting around each other and there was a loop, you could imagine the calf could end up tangling.”
Even if that doesn’t happen, the stress of the situation still poses a major threat to the health of the calf and Snow Cone.
“Entanglement alone is an expensive energy drain, much like nursing a calf,” Barb Zoodsma, NOAA’s Great Whale Recovery Coordinator, said in the statement. “The severity of his mouth and head injuries is also disconcerting. For these reasons, Snow Cone could face its biggest challenge yet in the coming months.
She noted, however, that Snow Cone’s perseverance – her previous baby was killed in a collision with a boat last year – shows the mother whale “clearly” has “game”.
In the meantime, scientists say that, as long as her newborn is nearby, it’s too risky to approach Snow Cone to try to untangle her again.
North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered, and entanglements in fishing gear and ship strikes are major threats to the species. According to NOAA, there are less than 350 whales left and they are currently dying faster than they can reproduce.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.