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Rescuers Free Endangered Right Whale from Entanglement off Campobello Island

Campobello Whale Rescue
A knot of marine rope and buoys entangles the young, endangered right whale - named FDR - off of Campobello Island in the Bay of Fundy.

A team of scientists and fishermen rescued an endangered right whale off Campobello Island this weekend, freeing the animal from tangled fishing gear in a five-hour effort.

The entangled, 30- to 40-foot whale was spotted in the Bay of Fundy Saturday morning. A rescue boat — a 24-foot inflatable Zodiac outboard — was dispatched to the area.

Moira Brown, a senior scientist with the New England Aquarium, along with a former fisheries manager and two local fishermen, then spent some five hours using special equipment to try to free the whale of its burden.

“We quickly assessed the whale’s entanglement, and it was clear there was quite a ball of line up behind the blowholes,” she says. “One of the fellows threw grapple over the whale and it caught right where we wanted it, right in the entangling lines on the whale. And what that does is that now gives us — it’s like a tagline, it gives us a line so that we know where the whale is.”

As the 6-year-old whale dove and surfaced, the team used long-handled knives to cut away the gear.

It wasn’t the first time this particular whale, known as FDR, had been disentangled in such fashion, and Brown says some 83 percent of right whales tracked by scientists have been entangled. But efforts to reduce their exposure in recent years, she says, have had mixed success at best.

There are roughly 500 right whales left in the North Atlantic.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.