Entangled North Atlantic right whale mom nicknamed Snow Cone spotted off coast of Cape Cod

The critically endangered whale was spotted with her calf for the first time in nine weeks off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Right whale "Snow Cone", pictured off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts on April 23, 2022....
Right whale "Snow Cone", pictured off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts on April 23, 2022. This whale got her name from the Snow Cone shaped pattern on her head.(Center For Coastal Studies, taken under NOAA permit #18786)
Published: Apr. 24, 2022 at 10:36 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 24, 2022 at 10:43 PM EDT
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PROVINCETOWN, MA (WWBT) - A critically endangered North Atlantic right whale mother nicknamed “Snow Cone” was spotted with her calf off the coast of Cape Cod, successfully completing a more than 1,000 mile migration despite being entangled in fishing rope.

Right whale Snow Cone was spotted with her calf during an aerial research survey by the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) based out of Provincetown, Massachusetts on April 23 and again on April 24.

Snow Cone gave birth to a calf in December 2021 off the coast of Georgia and was later seen with her calf off Florida in January. She was one of 15 right whale mothers in the 2021-2022 calving season. Snow Cone is the only right whale ever known to give birth to a calf while entangled, and this weekend’s sightings were the first time she was seen two months. Right whales don’t eat in the area off the southeastern U.S. where they give birth, so her return to the feeding grounds off the coast of Massachusetts is welcome news.

“She didn’t look awful, but she is noticeably skinnier. She hadn’t been sighted since being in the southeast about nine weeks ago and we were wondering if she’d come to Cape Cod Bay or if she would pass us by or if we wouldn’t see her again, so it’s a relief that she’s still alive and that her calf looks good,” said Ryan Schosberg, one of two CCS aerial observers on Saturday.

Snow Cone was first seen entangled in rope more than one year ago in March 2021, also off the coast of Massachusetts. At that time, disentanglement teams from CCS removed 300 feet of trailing line but were unable to remove the entire rope. Now that she has a calf nearby, disentanglement experts have determined it’s too dangerous to attempt to remove the rest of the rope at this time.

The calf currently with Snow Cone is the second one she has had in her lifetime. Her first calf was killed by a boat strike in 2020.

Scientists have feared Snow Cone may not survive this entanglement. The rope is stuck in her mouth, and wounds from the rope can become infected and cause sepsis. Snow Cone remains on a list of right whales that are seriously injured and not likely to survive. But so far, this resilient whale has beaten the odds.

The North Atlantic right whale is critically endangered, and the number of whales still alive has declined in recent years as a result of human activities. Entanglement with fishing gear and ship strikes are the two biggest threats to these mammals. Latest estimates put the number of surviving right whales at 336, which is down from approximately 500 whales a decade ago. People are required by federal law to stay at least 500 yards away from these whales (with an exception for organizations that hold a federal research permit).

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