Scientists say fishing rope snags more whales

Scientists say fishing rope snags more whales
Boston Globe – Boston,MA,USA

Despite the successful freeing of an entangled right whale on New Year’s Eve, evidence is growing that more of the leviathans are being snagged by the thousands of miles of fishing rope off New England and the eastern seaboard.

In the mid-1990s, scientists estimated about 64 percent of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales had scars from entanglements in fishing lines sometime in their lives. That number now hovers around 72 percent. Currently, federal scientists believe 13 right whales are swimming with fishing lines embedded in them, causing infection or death. Only 300 of the whales are left, so any death could be a devastating blow to the species.

“Entanglements seem to be increasing,” said Bob Bowman, a member of the disentanglement team of the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown. “People say [freeing a whale] must make me feel great, but it makes me incredibly depressed. It means it is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Center researchers, along with federal fishery scientists, helped in a dramatic effort to free Yellowfin, a 34-foot, 2-year-old right whale on New Year’s Eve 30 miles off South Carolina. The whale was first spotted Dec. 5 off Virginia with lobster gear wrapped around its head and closing one of its 6-inch blow holes to the size of a quarter.

Scientists spent much of Friday morning attempting to slow the whale to unwrap the lobster lines from its head. To get the frantic animal to slow down enough for those involved to cut the rope, they attached buoys, two underwater parachutes, and, finally, a line followed by a 22-foot boat. Just as scientists prepared to get close to the animal’s head to cut the gear, the rope broke, apparently from the tension caused by the weight it was dragging.

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