Officials: Emaciated whale with buoy stuck in mouth may die off coast of Nantucket

BOSTON (WHDH) - An emaciated right whale that is entangled in fishing gear and has a buoy stuck in its mouth may die in the water off the coast of Nantucket, officials said.

Researchers conducting an aerial survey south of Nantucket on Monday spotted the reproductive female, named Dragon, stuck in fishing gear and in “very poor” condition, according to the Northeast Fisheries Science Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Officials say Dragon has a buoy lodged into the right side of her mouth.

“Dragon appeared emaciated with unhealthy looking skin,” researchers said in news release. “The buoy is preventing her mouth from closing.”

Scientists at the New England Aquarium said the buoy is likely the main cause of Dragon’s terrible condition.

“She is extremely emaciated and gray, suggesting she may have been entangled and unable to close her mouth for months,” said senior scientist Amy Knowlton, who has worked on the New England Aquarium’s Kraus Marine Mammal Conservation Program since 1983.

Knowlton added that orange patches around Dragon’s head indicate that her skin is infested with orange cyamids, a kind of lice that focuses on areas where there is an injury.

Dragon, 19, is well-known to the New England Aquarium team. She has given birth three times, first at the age of 7. Her first calf died within weeks of birth, while her third calf has not been seen since 2016.

“It is both sad and discouraging to see Dragon, a whale we have followed from her birth through to maturity, entangled and in such poor health,” said Hamilton, who manages the North Atlantic right whale photo-identification catalog. “The hope for this species rides on the broad backs of these calving females. I fear we will lose this whale just as she enters what should be the prime of her reproductive life.”

Knowlton said the entanglement could have occurred anywhere and stressed the need to implement broad-scale changes to fishing gear.

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