Two dead North Atlantic right whales off the coast of Maine and a third rescued near Cape Cod have put whale safety front and center in New England, according to the Portland Press Herald.
Fishing gear entanglement has been cited in one of the whale deaths while the rescued whale also was entangled but freed by rescue workers. All three incidents occurred within a span of three days.
North Atlantic right whale populations have been on the rise in the last 10 years, the paper reports. The endangered baleen whales make seasonal visits to New England waters, and there are now about 500 of them, by current estimates.
But the aquatic giants run into trouble with both fishing gear and ships themselves. They can collide with vessels, and fishing nets can entangle them. While tough fisheries regulations have been put in place, the animals are still at risk.
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One of the dead whales, a female just entering the reproductive phase of her life, was found badly entangled in rope. Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are investigating that case, with no strong leads thus far.
The second dead right whale was so decomposed that it could not be brought to shore so that a necropsy could be performed.
The entangled whale that was freed near Cape Cod, though, yielded equipment permit information that could lead another team of NOAA investigators to the owner of the gear.
The cases may well augur further regulatory efforts to help the whales.
"This is a significant problem that has been worked on very very hard, and the fishermen and the fisheries and the stakeholder have been put through an enormous amount of gear-change stress in order to make a more whale-friendly fishery," Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientist Michael Moore told Rhode Island Public Radio. "But we're not out of the woods in any means."
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