#5: Two Seriously Scarred Whales Show Signs of Previous Entanglements

Part of the work we do at the New England Aquarium is to figure out how frequently right whales get scars from entanglements and vessel strikes. All images of each individual right whale are carefully reviewed to look for subtle and not so subtle evidence of these and to determine the time frame in which the interaction must have occurred. (Click photos to enlarge.)

The findings of this longterm scar coding study are provided to NOAA Fisheries Service (who supports the scar coding work) on a regular basis to help inform their management efforts aimed at reducing the frequency and severity of these events. NOAA Fisheries has implemented numerous measures in U.S. waters over the years for how, when and where fishermen set and configure their fixed fishing gear based on knowledge of right whale distribution and the types of gear found on right whales and other large whale species. For more details about these measures, visit the NOAA Whale Take Reduction Plan.

Over the 6 days at sea so far in the Bay of Fundy, we have seen two animals with severe entanglement scarring. The first animal and the one of most concern to us is Baldy's 2009 calf (Eg # 1240). The pair was seen together on August 9. We were so excited to see that Baldy and her calf had made the long migration from the southeast U.S. calving grounds to the Bay of Fundy. Baldy is one of the older known reproductive females in this population and she has given birth to 8 calves from 1974 to the present. (see our previous post about Baldy's story).

Our excitement upon finding the pair was quickly tempered when we saw major entanglement wounds on the tail stock of the calf--deep cuts into the leading edge of the fluke and peduncle. These are the sort of injuries that make you cringe to think of the pain this calf obviously endured and how hard it must have struggled to break free of the entangling line. The pictures of this calf's wounds speak for themselves, showing gruesome evidence of the problem these animals face. The overall condition of the calf is clearly compromised and its skin towards the aft part of its body looks grey and is peeling significantly, and the tail and body are partially covered by orange cyamids which also can be indicative of poor health.

We are very concerned about the prognosis for this calf. If we see them again this season, we will collect and compare photographs to this initial sighting to see if the calf's condition has changed. Hopefully this little one can survive this ordeal.

The second animal with serious scarring was seen on August 16. Although we have not yet matched it to the catalog, it appears to be a yearling. The tail region has many raw, wrapping scars indicative of a fairly recent entanglement interaction. This animal will likely survive this ordeal but the stress caused by the struggle to break free of the gear and the resulting injuries could be compromising this animals' long term health.
The solution to eliminating or reducing such severe entanglements remains elusive. But we continue to monitor the occurrence of these events, provide this information to the federal government, and constantly work towards finding solutions that will protect the whales and allow fishermen to fish.

Photo Caption:
1-4) A series of pictures showing the the entanglement scars on Baldy's calf.
5-8) Unknown juvenile with entanglement scars on
peduncle and leading edge of the fluke.


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