Rope-entangled right whale spotted off coast of New England | Whales

A North Atlantic right whale has been spotted entangled in rope off New England, worsening an already devastating year for the vanishing animals, federal authorities said.

Right whales number less than 360 and are vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with ships. The entangled whale was seen on Wednesday about 50 miles (80km) south of Rhode Island’s Block Island, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

The mammal has rope coming out of both sides of its mouth but its distant location is making it difficult for rescuers to help, the NOAA said.

“Given the long distance from shore, experts were unable to safely travel to the last known location during daylight to attempt a rescue,” a statement said. “NOAA Fisheries and our partners will monitor this whale and attempt to respond … if possible, as weather and safety conditions allow.”

Several right whales have died this year off Georgia and Massachusetts, and environmental groups fear the species could be headed for extinction.

A whale found dead off Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, in January showed evidence of injury from entanglement in fishing gear. Environmental groups have called for stricter rules; however, a federal budget package passed in late 2022 included a six-year pause on new federal whale regulations.

“This is another example that entanglements are happening in US waters,” said Gib Brogan, campaign director with environmental group Oceana. “We need stronger protection[s].”

The whales were once numerous off the east coast, but they were decimated during the commercial whaling era and have been slow to recover, despite federal protection for decades.

They migrate every year from calving grounds off Florida and Georgia to feeding grounds off New England and Canada. The journey has become more perilous in recent years because their food sources appear to be moving as waters warm amid the climate crisis.

That change causes the whales to stray from protected areas of ocean and become vulnerable to entanglements and collisions, scientists have said.

A study published last year said that climate change-induced warming in the Gulf of Maine was acutely endangering the right whale.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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