Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

A North Atlantic right whale appears at the surface of Cape Cod Bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass. on March 28, 2018.

Michael Dwyer/The Associated Press

Canadian officials are challenging American allegations that fishing gear from Canada is to blame for the entanglement of a North Atlantic right whale found dead off South Carolina.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada issued a statement Wednesday saying it had determined the gear, retrieved after a whale known as Cottontail was found dead on Feb. 27, likely came from an American inshore fishing boat.

The statement said Canadian officials believe the gear had been used somewhere between Long Island, N.Y., and South Carolina, and was mostly likely from the southern United States.

Story continues below advertisement

Canadian officials said they came to that conclusion after examining the gear with experts from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As well, they pointed out that Cottontail was not spotted in Canadian waters in 2020.

“Over the past few years, Canada’s fishing industry has demonstrated incredible adaptability and leadership when it comes to protecting North Atlantic right whales,” Fisheries and Oceans Canada said.

“Our measures for protecting the North Atlantic right whales are world-class, and this is largely due to the hard work and co-operation of our harvesters and their organizations.”

Experts estimate fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales survive.

A spokeswoman for NOAA confirmed Thursday that the results of a draft report are at odds with the Canadian findings. “We came to different conclusions,” said Jennifer Goebel, a public-affairs officer with NOAA’s Atlantic region. “We were told there was disagreement, but we have not seen the report from Canada.”

She said NOAA’s final report may arrive at a different conclusion once all of the evidence has been examined.

While it was agreed the gear could not have been used in the 2020 Canadian fishery, given its lack of compliance with the latest rules, the Americans concluded the gear could have been used in 2019 and 2018.

Story continues below advertisement

As well, the report stated the gear could not have been used off the coast of the southern United States because it doesn’t match the gear type known to be used in that area.

NOAA’s draft report also included a detailed description of the 1.5-centimetre floating line that was retrieved from Cottontail’s body, as well as a description of the various knots and mending twine attached to the rope.

Though the rope had no identification tags or marks, NOAA experts concluded it was identical to the type of Canadian snow crab trap gear found on another entangled right whale, Ruffian, in 2017.

“Given all the similarities between the two cases and not matching any U.S. fishery, we feel the gear is consistent with Canadian snow crab [gear],” the report said.

Those who drafted the report, however, admit they are not experts on Canadian gear. “Our NOAA Fisheries gear team has extensive experience with fishing industries within our country and we recognize our knowledge of Canadian fisheries is limited,” the report said.

“Any case, including this one, which is not identified to an individual fisher will remain an open case as additional information may change the conclusion.”

Story continues below advertisement

The entanglement was first reported by an aerial search team on Oct. 19, 2020, as they were flying south of Nantucket, Mass. The New England Aquarium identified Cottontail, saying the 11-year-old male had rope over its head and hanging from both sides of his mouth.

About 27 metres of rope was removed from the whale’s body, but the response team couldn’t get it all, as Cottontail became evasive and agitated as night fell.

A signal from a tracking device indicated the whale was about 100 kilometres south of Yarmouth, N.S., on Oct. 31, 2020, but the crew aboard a Fisheries and Oceans aircraft could not see the whale as the aircraft zeroed in on the signal.

Cottontail was last seen alive off Florida’s Treasure Coast on Feb. 18, 2021.

Conservationists worry that North Atlantic right whales are slipping closer to extinction as deaths in recent years have outpaced births.

The 2021 calving season, however, has proven to be the best in years. Survey teams dispatched last month to search by air for right whale mothers and newborn calves spotted 15 calves – the most reported since 2015.

Story continues below advertisement

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies