Scientists made a heartbreaking discovery about a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
The whale, named Shaved ice, is tangled in “heavy” fishing gear in what is at least her fifth entanglement, according to a Sept. 22 public statement from the New England Aquarium.
The aquarium’s aerial study team detected the entangled whale while flying south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, on Sept. 21.
In addition to the new gear caught on the whale, the team also distinguished the fishing gear the mother whale became entangled in some time before December 2021 — around when Shaved ice gave birth while entangled in fishing rope — still adhered to the marine mammal.
Shaved ice’s most memorable calf was killed by a boat, and the calf born during her entanglement has not been seen since April.
After the second baby whale’s introduction to the world, scientists were concerned about whether Shaved ice could successfully nurture the calf in her state.
After spotting the whale last week without her calf, the team recorded the whale’s situation, taking photographs and notes for “potential disentanglement efforts.”
One scientist, Sharon Hsu, who had recently photographed Shaved ice, was “stunned” by her health decline.
“Eighteen months ago, there was trust that disentanglement efforts could eliminate enough of the gear and that would allow her to make due,” Hsu said. “Presently, she’s shrouded in orange cyamids [whale lice]. She was moving so sluggishly, she was unable to plunge, she recently sunk. She’s suffering. There is never again trust for her survival.”
Both the “heavy” presence of orange cyamids — indicators of chronic weakness — and rake marks on Shaved ice’s head further illustrate the impact the entanglements have had on the whale. While there was beforehand trust for her survival, presently, according to the release, Shaved ice’s death is “all however certain.”
The aquarium said that Shaved ice’s tragic case — one of five whales observed with attached gear this year — shines a necessary focus on the “dire requirement for dramatic changes to fixed gear fisheries, including accelerating the transition to ropeless or ‘on-demand’ gear.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the North Atlantic right whale as critically endangered, with an estimated population of less than 350 whales.