New figures show at least seven North Atlantic right whales got entangled in fishing gear in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this summer, and two died as a result.
Two of the whales were freed by rescuers, including Joe Howlett, who was killed during one of the missions.
A fifth whale wrestled itself free of fishing ropes, while the fate of the other two animals is unknown, according to the New England Aquarium figures.
Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc says he is concerned about “hundreds of feet of rope” floating in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
But he stopped short of promising changes to fishing gear, saying the government still must consult with scientists, including U.S. experts.
DEEP TROUBLE | Right whale in peril
After an unprecedented number of deaths this summer, CBC News is bringing you an in-depth look at the endangered North Atlantic right whale. In a series called Deep Trouble, CBC explores the perils facing the right whales.
“The commitment I can make is that next year’s season will be different than this year’s season in terms of our preparedness, in terms of the discussion we’re having around fishing gear, marine transportation, real-time surveillance,” LeBlanc said in an interview.
“All of these measures will be brought together in a co-ordinated way.”
The future is bleak for an entangled whale.
Many animals will carry the gear for months, if not years, before slowly succumbing to their injuries, according to Philip Hamilton, a research scientist at the New England Aquarium.
“It is heartbreaking because of the suffering,” he said.
Snow crab gear a culprit
In 2015 and 2016 combined, at least three whales got tangled up in fishing gear in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including one that died from its injuries.
In those cases, Hamilton said, scientists are sure the whales were caught up in snow crab gear.
Given the location of the seven whales found entangled this year, it’s “likely” they were also victims of snow crab gear, he added.
Just last week, scientists cut a snow crab trap from a right whale carcass during a necropsy performed on Miscou Island.
Wrapped in heavy ropes, the animal had apparent…