A North Atlantic Right Whale entangled!

October 11, 2020  •  3 Comments

I was out on the American Princess on Sunday Oct 11th on a whale and dolphin watch. The day brought us off NNJ, with NYC always in sight. Captain Frank and Captain Tom were at the helm. We came upon a Humpback Whale off in the distance and were in transit to meet up with the whale. While in route, Capt. Frank saw a very faint blow closer to the AP, so we investigated the closer whale. From a distance the “Humpback” looked so beat up, it was worrisome. White and brown spots all over the whale, the peduncle and tail area were raw but healing. We get closer and notice no dorsal...Hmmm. Then we saw the blow from a good angle and it's heart shaped…Wow, can it be? The whale comes to the boat and it is a… NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALE! WOW! We have only seen one NARW once before and it was entangled; this is our second on the AP! If you are a whale lover, this is exciting. Seeing a whale like this in NYC/NNJ waters is very rare!  There is an estimate of 200-400 NARW’s alive in this world, and we were on one now.

As soon as the NARW identification was made, we backed away immediately and left the NARW. NOAA regulations say you need to stay 500 meters away and we did. On exiting, THE CALLS WENT OUT on seeing a NARW! ALL protocols were followed when seeing a NARW. The government agencies were informed: NOAA, USCG, and others. Captains Frank and Tom called Vessel Traffic about the NARW being in the area. All ships in the area were hailed and informed to slow down, including another whale watching boat.

The conditions were a little rocky, especially when in the trough. Looking at photos for details in these conditions is limited. I get home, upload the photos, and start the processing. I notice a rope embedded in the rostrum of the NARW. It looks like the rope is wrapped twice around the top of the mouth and is not wrapped around the whole mouth (my opinion, I am not a NARW expert). I think this whale can filter feed, but I did not get photos of the whole head of the NARW. Photos show the rope being covered by the lower jaw and, this to me, would point to it being able to open its lower jaw to eat. But again, I am NOT an expert. The rope looks to have been there for a while because it's embedded in the top of the head and callosities have totally covered it up except on the sides.

As soon as I saw the rope, I processed the photos and sent them out to all agencies that needed them for IDing, including CCS and MMSC.

I waited a few days before posting the information and when NOAA sent out their bulletin, I waited another day to post my info and photos!

Here is what I know and was told: This NARW has not been matched and is not known to be involved in any ongoing entanglement case. Based on its emaciation and extreme injuries-- look at the giant healing impact bruise or cut on its left side-- this whale is in very bad shape. Look at the entanglement scars, the rope, and injuries-- it likely does not have much longer. It is not likely to be feeding, so it will probably wander and may show up just about anywhere.

We wish this NA Right Whale well; we might see it in the area next week? If we do, we will stay 1500 feet away and call all who need to know that it's still in the area.


New York Harbor Channel(non-registered)
Artie... it is distressing to hear such news. Right Whales experienced devastating injuries and fatalities in Canadian waters last year in 2019. My understanding is NARWs summer in the colder waters north of the Gulf of Maine. It would be cruel to think this whale has endured such a condition over a full migration cycle. Are you aware of any reports of entanglements in Canada or the Northeast U.S. this year? Gotham Whale does a great job of bringing awareness and protections to whales in the New York Bight Sadly, active engagement might be necessary to help bring an end to entanglements up and down the entire Eastern seaboard. Please continue your progress and let me know what citizen scientists can do to help. Thnx, Marc Hittner NYHC
Beth Miller(non-registered)
Thanks for sharing the photos and the experience. So cool to see a right whale here, but so awful that it's in bad shape.
Brian Thompson(non-registered)
Artie, this is so sad. Thank you for sharing.
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