Weather stalls whale help

Poor weather conditions have forced a whale rescue team to postpone its bid to disentangle a North Atlantic right whale from fishing gear that is trailing from its head.

The federal Fisheries Department issued a statement late Sunday saying the Campobello Whale Rescue Team was unable to help the 18-year-old whale, which has been tangled in gear in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for at least two weeks.

A team from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attached an electronic tracking device to the whale on Friday.

The endangered animal, known as 3125, was first spotted on July 4 by the crew aboard a Transport Canada aircraft east of Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula.

Philip Hamilton, who works at the New England Aquarium, says the whale has a rope deeply embedded in its head and over its blow hole.

He said the gear has caused hundreds of deep wounds and is also fouling the whale's baleen, which is the filtering system in the whale's mouth used to trap food.

The Fisheries Department confirmed Friday that two more whales had been found dead, bringing the total number of right whale deaths in Canadian waters this year to eight.

So far, federal officials and marine mammal experts have conducted tests on five of the carcasses.

Though the first necropsy failed to determine a cause of death, the next three confirmed that each of the whales had suffered injuries compatible with a vessel strike.

The fifth necropsy was completed Sunday in Grand-Etang, Que., on the body of a whale that was spotted drifting west of Quebec's Iles-de-la-Madeleine on July 18. However, preliminary findings were not released.

Previous necropsies have been conducted in Miscou, N.B., Petit Etang, N.S., Norway, P.E.I., and Grand Etang, Que.

There are only 400 North Atlantic right whales left on the planet, which means the species is critically endangered.

With deaths outpacing live births, the latest losses have prompted renewed warnings that the whales are facing extinction.

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