Sunday, September 6, 2009

Entangled mother released

September 4th saw the successful disentanglement of a right whale mother named Mavynne. She had been in the Bay of Fundy on August 28th but Friday morning was spotted by recreational fishermen and reported to the US Coast Guard at 7:30 AM. The disentanglement team from the Center for Coastal Studies responded and with the help of another recreational fisherman, eventually found the entangled right whale at noon.

The whale was free swimming but was moving slowly because of the weight of the gear it was towing and creating clouds of mud around it, probably from dragging the gear across the bottom. There were many wraps of line over the head and through the mouth. After several attempts to approach the whale, the team was successful in cutting a line across the top of the head. The weight of the fishing gear underneath the whale was sufficient to release all of the lines including the ones through the mouth. The team followed the whale for an hour to make check its status and never saw another right whale.

Photographs from the disentanglement attempt were sent to the New England Aquarium for an identification. The whale was quickly identified as a mother from this year, Mavynne, which sent shivers through everyone. We are hoping that her calf eventually found her as she called for her calf.

Mavynne is an interesting mother because she is the first known right whale mother to trade her calf with another right whale mother, Stumpy. In 1989 both were mothers and photographed in the calving area with calves. When the genetic profiles were done for the calves, at first the geneticists thought the samples had been reversed because the calves did not show genetic similarities to their mothers but when compared to the opposing mothers, did. The circumstances of the trade are not known but happened shortly after birth of each baby. This trading of calves will not happen again between these two females because unfortunately, a pregnant Stumpy, with a near-term fetus, were found dead in February, 2004 off Virginia Beach, killed by a collision with a vessel.

These sad stories are all too often in right whales and despite efforts to protect these whales, continue to happen.

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