July 20, 2019 5:13 pm
Updated: July 20, 2019 5:17 pm

Rescue team looking to free right whale trapped in fishing gear for weeks

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GULF OF ST.LAWRENCE — Experts will try to free an 18-year-old right whale who has been tangled in fishing gear in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for at least two weeks on Sunday.

READ MORE: 2 more dead endangered right whales spotted, bringing total to 8 this year

Philip Hamilton, who works at the New England Aquarium, says a team from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attached a tracker to the whale on Friday.

The animal, known as 3125, was first seen entangled in the gear on July 4 by a Transport Canada Plane east of the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec.

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The plan, Hamilton says, is for the Campobello Whale Rescue Team to disentangle the whale on Sunday.

News that the whale had been identified comes after the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced on Friday two more whales were found dead, bringing the total number of deaths this year to eight.

READ MORE: ‘We’ve got to do our part’ to prevent right whale deaths: fisherman

Right whales are highly endangered, with only about 400 left on the planet and deaths outpacing live births.

Hamilton says the team rescuing the whale has their work cut out for them.

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“The animal is in a very challenging entanglement,” Hamilton says. “He has a line deeply embedded in the head and over the blow hole and its baleen — which is its filtering mechanism _ has been damaged and is sticking out of its mouth in the front of the whale.”

READ MORE: Ropeless fishing gear in development as second right whale found dead in Gulf of St. Lawrence

The animal’s chances of survival, even once freed, could be compromised because fishing lines are so strong, Hamilton says, noting that even if a whale manages to break the ties, the animal can still suffer significant damage to their tissue.

“Imagine having hundreds of deep open wounds on your body and trying to heal it while swimming,” Hamilton says. “It’s a biologically challenging situation.”

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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