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Snow Cone, a right whale entangled in fishing rope, spotted with calf in U.S.

Sunday, December 5th 2021, 1:13 pm - Rescuers removed some fishing gear from whale in Gulf of St. Lawrence earlier this year

An entangled North Atlantic right whale that crews tried to disentangle from fishing gear off the northeastern coast of New Brunswick earlier this year was spotted this week with a calf.

Snow Cone, born in 2005, was sighted with a newborn in the waters off Cumberland Island, Ga., by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aerial crew on Dec. 2.

The sighting hits close to home for New Brunswickers, who made several attempts to disentangle the mother in May.

"I was extremely shocked," said Mackie Greene with the Campobello Whale Rescue team.

Greene was one of the rescuers working to free Snow Cone from the entanglement in May and July.

No one knew Snow Cone was pregnant at the time. Greene said since learning about her new calf this week he's a bit torn.

"I almost feel a little bit bad," he said Saturday. "You're harassing the whales to get that close to try to get the rope off them."

Crews managed to remove about 30 metres of fishing rope from the whale over three attempts.

Snow Cone still has two pieces of rope, each about five metres long, attached to her mouth. They drag alongside her body.

Greene said that he hopes what the crews accomplished this summer helped Snow Cone have a healthy calf.

"Maybe we've got enough rope off her so that the calf doesn't get tangled up with her, which would be extremely horrific if that ever happened."

He said it's the first time he's heard of an entangled right whale being able to have a calf.

Greene said Snow Cone was extremely "evasive and strong" when they were trying to free her from the fishing gear.

The team had the most strain that they've had in 20 years trying to pull the rope from her mouth.

Greene said it makes sense in context.

"She's pregnant," he said. "She's fighting not only for her life but for her calf's life, too."

The sighting brought mixed emotions to Danielle Dion, a naturalist and biologist with Quoddy Link Marine.

"Hopefulness that there's a new calf for this critically endangered population," she said, adding a concern that Snow Cone is still entangled. "Fear for the calf. Anger that these entanglements are still happening."

Much like Greene, Dion said she was shocked to hear that Snow Cone had a calf.

"Snow Cone and Calf? I'm like, Snow Cone is entangled," she thought.

This is believed to be Snow Cone's second calf.

Her first calf was born in early 2020. It was killed a few months later after being struck by a small vessel.

The North Atlantic right whale population stood at fewer than 350 at the end of last year.

Thumbnail courtesy of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans

This story, written by Gary Moore, was originally published by CBC News on December 4, 2021.

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