Entangled North Atlantic right whale’s condition has worsened: New England Aquarium

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The New England Aquarium has released new information this week about an entangled North Atlantic right whale named Snow Cone.

The 17-year-old whale was most recently spotted on July 23 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between northern New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island by scientists on vessel.

The sighting confirmed she is still entangled in fishing gear and that her calf born at the end of last year is not with her.

The New England Aquarium has released new information this week about an entangled North Atlantic right whale named Snow Cone.

The 17-year-old whale was most recently spotted on July 23 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between northern New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island by scientists on vessel.

The sighting confirmed she is still entangled in fishing gear and that her calf born at the end of last year is not with her.

Scientists have now determined Snow Cone’s condition has worsened over the past three months. They say she remains thin and has lesions on both of her lip lines that were not present in the springtime.

Snow Cone was first observed to be caught in fishing gear off Massachusetts in March 2021. The aquarium says a trained disentanglement team removed some of the rope at that time, but not all.

She was seen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence two months later and another disentanglement team removed more rope, but the rope embedded in the upper jaw stayed. It is believed that the fishing rope, which is now embedded in her upper jaw bone, will never come out.

If the whale does survive the entanglement, the aquarium says she will most likely never eat properly again. Her ability to have more calves is also drastically diminished.

Snow Cone was spotted again, in December 2021, with a newborn calf near Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Scientists say the July sighting of Snow Cone without her calf is not a good sign. They add that while they can’t be certain what happened, researchers conducting field work continue to search for the calf by boat and by plane.

Heather Pettis, a research scientist at the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, says whales like Snow Cone can swim with excruciating injuries and attached gear for long periods of time, but it greatly diminishes their quality of life and eventually leads to death.

The New England Aquarium says a mix of education and legislative action to prevent entanglements may be the only hope for the species.

Earlier this year, the Canadian government announced seasonal and temporary fishing area closures in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Bay of Fundy as part of efforts to protect North Atlantic right whale populations.

There are an estimated 336 North Atlantic right whales left in the ocean, a population drop of about eight per cent since 2019.

(With files from CTV Atlantic's Natalie Lombard and The Canadian Press)

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