Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New year brings good news for Provincetown whale rescuers

Note: the whale referred to as "Mazynne" should be spelled Mavynne with a "v" and she is also known as EGNO 1151

By Kaimi Rose Lum | Provincetown Banner | Jan 13, 2010

"The new year has begun on a positive note for researchers at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, who have learned that a young right whale feared dead may actually be alive.

The yearling is the calf of the right whale known as “Mazynne,” who was disentangled by the PCCS whale rescue team up on Jeffery’s Ledge off Gloucester on Sept. 4. Although the team was thrilled to save Mazynne from the deadly entrapment in fishing gear, they were unhappy to learn shortly after the rescue that Mazynne was a mother whose calf should have been with her at the time.

“We feared the worst,” said Scott Landry, director of the PCCS whale disentanglement program. Often, he explained, mothers and baby whales become entangled together. Although Mazynne appeared to be alone at the time of the rescue, the whale responders couldn’t help wondering if her calf had been trapped underneath her and lost when the final cut was made that freed the mother from the entangling rope.

“There was no knowing what was in that gear,” Landry said. “Our big nightmare for the last few months is that while we disentangled the mother, we lost the calf.”

They hoped to prove otherwise. In September a bulletin was put out to the right whale research community alerting scientists to be on the watch for the calf.

Just last week, good news arrived. On Dec. 26, researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported that they had sighted a yearling whale off the coast of Florida that matched descriptions of Mazynne’s calf. Whale experts at the New England Aquarium were called in to take a closer look, and, comparing the photos of the calf already in their right whale database with aerial photos taken more recently, they have now tentatively confirmed that it is the whale they were looking for.

“Matching between the calf stage and juvenile stage [when a whale has been weaned from its mother] is notoriously difficult,” Landry said. “In this case it is a good match, but on-water photos will be necessary to cinch the match.”

Landry called the news “a bright spot” in the world of right whale work, and as he looks back on 2009 he is taking stock of other successes.

“All told, we disentangled two right whales, four humpbacks and nine leatherback turtles [in 2009],” he said.

All three are endangered species, and right whales are listed as critically endangered. Only 450, approximately, remain in the world."

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