ELLSWORTH — Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have released a new study documenting how much damage entanglements in fishing gear does to North Atlantic right whales — one of the most endangered of all the large whale species. Their migratory routes take them through some of the busiest commercial fishing areas along the East Coast of the United States — including the Gulf of Maine — and into Canadian waters.

According to the institution scientists, entanglements with fishing gear represent the leading cause of death for endangered whales. Their findings were recently published in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

Entangled whales can tow fishing gear for hundreds of miles over months, or even years, before either being freed, shedding the gear on their own or succumbing to their injuries, the scientists said.

In a paper published online Dec. 9, a research team led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution quantified for the first time the amount of drag on entangled whales created by towing gear, such as rope, buoys and lobster traps. The study provides important data for teams evaluating the risks and benefits of whale disentanglements.

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