ELLSWORTH — A severely entangled, endangered right whale was freed on Saturday after a long-running, five-hour rescue in the Bay of Fundy by four members of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team in a 24-foot, inflatable rescue boat.
The 6-year-old male North Atlantic right whale was first spotted entangled in a large amount of gear near Campobello Island and the United States-Canada border by a vessel from the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station. That group called in a nearby New England Aquarium boat carrying right whale researchers, which stood by the 40-45-foot plankton feeder. The volunteer Campobello Whale Rescue Team was then called.
Two lobstermen left their work and joined New England Aquarium whale researcher Moira Brown and a retired Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans manager on board a rescue Zodiac and sped off about 30 miles to the scene.
On arrival, they found one of the most severely entangled whales that any of them had ever seen. The juvenile whale had line wrapped multiple times around its head, back and both flippers. The 5/8-inch polyblend line even ran through the whale’s baleen — the giant filtering plates that hang from its upper jaw. In addition, two orange flotation balls were cinched to its body, just behind the blowholes.
The Campobello team attached a long, control line with a buoy at its end so that they could track the whale when it dove. For five hours, they repeatedly looked for the whale to surface, then approached it and used a long pole with a blade on its end to cut away pieces of the entangling rope.
They did that dozens of times, first removing line from the head, then the left flipper and eventually the remainder of the body. A ball of knotted rope and the two buoys remained attached to the right flipper. On their last approach of the day, they were able to make a final cut and retrieved that gear. A short amount of line remains in the baleen, but the rescuers believed that the young whale would be able to shed it over time. Free of its web of marine gear, the whale sped off.
Even with its rescue, this critically endangered whale is still in poor condition, but rescuers remain hopeful. New England Aquarium right whale scientists, working for the summer out of nearby Lubec, had identified the whale as the yet unnamed No. 4057, born in the winter of 2010 off the Southeastern United States. In 2014, it had been freed from another marine gear entanglement off of Georgia.
The Campobello/Georgia connection was not lost on the aquarium whale researchers. They decided to name No. 4057 after Campobello’s most famous resident, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who also had a summer home on the island and an affinity for spending winters in the warmer waters of Georgia. Roosevelt contracted polio at Campobello in the summer of 1921. He would go on to spend many winters in Warm Springs, Ga., where he established a treatment center for the disease.
Researchers hope that this whale, facing life-threatening physical challenges, has the good fortune of its namesake and survives and goes on to contribute to the recovery of the most endangered large whale species in the Atlantic.