Fin whale entangled near Grand Manan last week presumed dead, rescuer says

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A 60-foot-long fin whale is presumed dead after it got entangled in a navigation buoy.  (Campobello Whale Rescue Team - image credit)
A 60-foot-long fin whale is presumed dead after it got entangled in a navigation buoy. (Campobello Whale Rescue Team - image credit)

A fin whale spotted near Grand Manan is believed to have died after becoming entangled in a navigation buoy, something rescuers say they have never seen before.

Moira Brown, who is part of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team with the Canadian Whale Institute, said the rescue team responded to a report of an entangled whale spotted from the Grand Manan Ferry at around 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 1.

The ferry was travelling from Blacks Harbour to Grand Manan.

Brown said the team went searching with two boats, joined by a boat and aircraft from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada team.

Rescuers searched for the entangled whale until about 1 p.m. with no luck.

"We thought we would look a little more, give it one last chance on the way back," said Brown.

"We couldn't believe what we saw."

Campobello Whale Rescue Team
Campobello Whale Rescue Team

The whale was spotted at around 1:15 p.m. entangled in a navigation buoy that was likely attached with cable and chain to a cement block weighing about a tonne.

The fin whale was about 60 feet long and had the plastic red buoy tightly attached to the left side of its jaw.

Brown said the rescue team attached a line to the buoy and tried to pull it out of the whale's mouth, but it didn't work, and because the buoy was attached to cable and chain, it was impossible to cut.

Despite many attempts, the whale stopped coming to the surface around 4:15 p.m on Sept 1.

"In the end, there was nothing we could do," said Brown.

Campobello Whale Rescue Team
Campobello Whale Rescue Team

Mackie Greene is also a member of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team. He said rescuers believe the fin whale travelled about 10 to 12 kilometres to deeper water with the navigation buoy attached.

He said the incident is very rare, as navigation buoys are usually close to shore and whales tend to stay in deeper water.

"It's just something you never expect," said Greene.

"There are a lot of navigation buoys all around and you don't expect the whales to be that close to them."

Greene said entangled whales have a tendency to travel to more shallow water in an attempt to rub off whatever is stuck to them, but this whale was travelling the opposite way.

He said the rescue team may have had a better chance of saving the whale had it travelled to shallow water, because they could have gotten more slack from the line. In this situation, the rope wasn't long enough to touch the ocean floor so the whale was carrying its weight.

"I'm sure it was tired out and it was bleeding pretty bad too," said Greene.

Campobello Whale Rescue Team
Campobello Whale Rescue Team

Whales are most commonly found entangled in fishing gear like rope, said Greene.

Greene said the whale, which is now presumed dead, was identified by nearby whale cruising businesses as having been spotted with a calf prior to the incident. A calf has since been seen travelling alone.

Fin whales are the second largest whale species in the world and are listed as a species of special concern in the Atlantic Ocean by the federal Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Greene said the Canadian Whale Institute is sharing photos of the entangled whale with whale rescue colleagues around the world to see if there are any other records of a whale getting entangled in a navigation buoy.

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