SouthCoastToday: On Christmas Day 2010, an aerial team of wildlife spotters saw a whale in distress off the eastern coast of Florida. Her head, mouth, and fins were tangled in 132 meters of commercial fishing rope.

Marine veterinarians and biologists untangled the whale, diving into the water and cutting the lines that had wrapped around her upper jaw and cut into her flesh. But the damage had been done. Weeks later, the giant mammal was found floating at the surface, the victim of a shark attack. The incident, according to a new study, shows that whales’ fight against fishing gear can kill them long after they’ve been freed from it.

Researchers already know that heavy-duty commercial fishing lines and lobster and crab traps, connected to the surface by long ropes, pose a formidable threat to whales in the North Atlantic, by inflicting deep wounds and sapping their energy reserves. Accidental entrapment is the leading cause of death for Atlantic whales in records going back to 1970. The National Marine Fisheries Service reported 25 sightings of entangled whales in 2010. Five did not survive the encounter. Many of the surviving whales were described as thin and weak.

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