‘No longer hope for her survival,’ Right whale entangled off New England coast

Scientists say Snow Cone was already carrying gear from a previous entanglement
Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 11:25 AM EDT
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BOSTON (WMTW) - The New England Aquarium says a North Atlantic right whale was spotted about 15 miles south of Nantucket on Wednesday entangled in new fishing gear.

Scientists say they spotted Snow Cone and say she was also still carrying gear from a previous entanglement. Now, they believe the whale will die.

“Eighteen months ago, there was hope that disentanglement efforts could remove enough of the gear and that would allow her to survive. Now, she’s covered in orange cyamids [whale lice]. She was moving so slowly, she couldn’t dive, she just sunk. She’s suffering. There is no longer hope for her survival,” research assistant Sharon Hsu said.

The scientists immediately alerted a disentanglement team, but because of ocean conditions created by Hurricane Fiona, response efforts are on hold for now.

The aquarium says this case highlights what they call the urgent need for dramatic changes to fixed gear fisheries, including accelerating the transition to ropeless or “on-demand” gear.

In March 2021, Snow Cone was sighted with her fourth entanglement in fishing gear. She drew international attention in December 2021 when researchers in the right whale calving grounds off the southeastern U.S. sighted her with a newborn calf. Snow Cone was still entangled, with rope deeply embedded in her upper jaw.

“We are watching one of the few remaining reproductive North Atlantic right whale females slowly die, and the deterioration and suffering that she has experienced is inexcusable,” said Heather Pettis, research scientist in the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life. “While horrific in and of itself, Snow Cone is not alone in her experience. More than 86% of right whales have experienced at least one and some individuals as many as eight entanglements, and the severity of these events has increased over time.”

The aquarium says Snow Cone is the fifth North Atlantic right whale that has been spotted this year with attached fishing gear. It is estimated that there are fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales left in the world.