All too common are right whale deaths caused by entanglements in fishing gear.
Right whale Cottontail is surrounded by dolphins off Sebastian Inlet February 18, 2021
Joey Antonelli of Indiatlantic used his drone to obtain a video of dolphins swimming with Cottontail the right whale on February 18, 2021 off Sebastian Inlet.
VIDEO CONTRIBUTED BY JOEY ANTONELLI, Treasure Coast Newspapers
Sometimes a fishing trip can end up being a life changing experience.
This is what recently happened to Joey Antonelli. The Indian fisherman and YouTube personality headed to Sebastian Inlet with his fishing gear and drone on February 18. his paddle.
Sometime after noon that day, he put his drone into the air and began to scan the turquoise blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean a few dozen meters beyond the breakers. But instead of the fish, Antonelli saw something very different.
He saw a right whale weighing nearly 50 tons.
Following: Entangled right whale found dead off South Carolina
âAt first I saw a shadow just under the waves, but it wasn’t a school of fish – it was a lot bigger,â Antonelli says in the 16-minute YouTube video titled âThis Whale NEEDS D ‘AID”.
The whale was clearly in the middle of a struggle. Antonelli could see on his drone’s screen a thick white cord tangled in the whale’s baleen – the fine tooth-like structures in whales’ mouths used to sift krill from the water for food.
The rope stretched over 100 feet and dragged behind the whale’s fin.
Antonelli could immediately tell that this animal was in trouble. He knew he had to act fast.
He called his wife and asked her to contact someone from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration to report the whale’s distress. Within minutes, his cell phone rang with questions about his whereabouts and how he could help.
Antonelli was recruited as an assistant member of the NOAA Whale Disentanglement Team.
Following: Whale spotted off Sebastian Inlet entangled in commercial fishing gear
âIt was one of the craziest parts. They moved so quickly once I got them the pictures and there was no doubt it was a rope and I wasn’t a fool that didn’t know what I was talking about, âAntonelli said. TCPalm. “They were at full speed to get the job done.”
Team members, coming from as far away as Stuart and New Smyrna Beach, rushed over and launched a ribbed inflatable boat propelled by a small speedboat. They set out to approach the whale to determine if they could free it once and for all.
Using Antonelli’s photos, NOAA identified the troubled whale as Right Whale # 3920, named Cottontail, a 12-year-old male last seen off Nantucket in October.
A separate disentanglement team, en route to rescue another whale, saw Cottontail caught in what would have been lobster fishing gear. It is not known how long before this the whale was entangled.
North Atlantic right whale could be threatened with extinction
The North American right whale, a rare species known to visit the Delaware coast, could be threatened with extinction. That’s because scientists couldn’t find any new calves this year, after a year in which the species suffered 17 deaths, more than four times the normal annual average.
Maddy Lauria / The News Journal
The Untangle Team was unable to free Cottontail as the sun set and the next day’s weather worsened. Antonelli said the GPS tracker the team attached to the rope indicated that the whale had also turned offshore about 20 miles the next day, which would have made efforts to save it impossible.
No one knows exactly what happened next. Certainly towing this equipment for months took a toll on the poor bunny. Some time after Antonelli first saw it, the whale gave in to its exhaustion and inability to feed itself properly.
The Gulf Stream, which serves as a highway carrying megatons of ocean life from the warm Caribbean seas to the cold North Atlantic waters, has become Cottontail’s funeral procession.
On February 27, the emaciated carcass began to transform into its next role as food for millions of scavengers. The first to congregate were the great white sharks, drawn to the mile-long slick of oily whale fat drifting in ocean currents.
Of human origin
Antonelli hopes people can learn a lesson from this. Someday soon, maybe technology can help prevent these entanglements from one of the world’s most endangered gentle creatures.
“As someone who has grown up on the water their entire life, it is heartbreaking to see an animal of this magnitude slowly dying because of humans,” he told TCPalm.
Right whales number only around 400 in the North Atlantic, so each singular loss impacts the species’ gene pool and its ability to reproduce.
According to NOAA, efforts to unravel a right whale are often unsuccessful. On approximately 60 attempts over the past 10 years, the team has helped remove gear from nine right whales.
Humpback whales, however, saw about 90% of the gear removed by teams when they became entangled.
Oceana estimates that 300,000 whales worldwide are lost each year to gear entanglements, ship strikes and other human causes.
Antonelli has seen enough of a whale fight.
âI want this whale story to explode because it’s something that needs a lot more attention than it gets. These whales get tangled up and are killed in commercial lobster and crab gear and so on. ‘is well documented and something needs to change, âhe said.
I couldn’t agree more.
What you should do
Anyone who sees a whale in distress in the waters between Florida and North Carolina, tangled, injured, or stranded on shore, should call the 24-hour stranding hotline at 877-WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343) as well as :
- Stay in your boat. Never enter the water to help a whale, dolphin, seal or sea turtle.
- Write down the GPS coordinates of the animal’s location.
- Do not try to free an animal on your own. Wait for the rescuers.
- Watch the situation. Authorities will ask you to watch the animal from a safe distance, greater than 100 meters, and not directly behind the animal.
- Document the entanglement. If possible, take photos and videos of the animal from a safe distance.
Preventing such entanglements is NOAA’s top priority, according to its website.
North American Right Whales
- Vary: East coast of North America from Newfoundland to Florida; a population off Iceland and northern Europe is now considered extinct
- Average adult length: 45-55 feet
- Average adult weight: Up to 70 tons
- Lifetime: 50-70 years old historically, but whales born today have a life expectancy of 15 years, mainly due to collisions with ships and tangles of fishing gear
- Diet: Plankton, especially copepods, filtered through baleen in the mouth
- Maximum swimming speed: 10 mph, for brief periods
- Maximum diving capacity: 1000 feet deep for 40 minutes
- Appearance: Mainly black with whitish spots on the head and belly. No dorsal fin and a deeply notched “moat” or tail. Long, whiskered-like baleen fringes instead of teeth, which he uses to pull small animals out of water for food. Two vents on the top of its head give a distinctive V-shape to a right whale’s beak.
- For more information, visit Fisheries.noaa.gov/species/north-atlantic-right-whale.