Story Of Baby Sperm Whale Who Spent Four Years Entangled In Fishing Gear Highlights Marine Pollution Crisis

Source: National Geographic/Craig Welch

Photo: Tim Cole/NOAA/Wikimedia Commons

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When he saw the pictures, Shane Gero froze.

A thick strand of rope, a wayward piece of quarter-inch cord from a fishing net, dangled off the tail of a young sperm whale. To the untrained eye, the line looked harmless—a lasso cinched near the base of the animal’s fluke. But Gero knew the rope was a killer.

The photographs emailed from a colleague showed the heavy rope weighing down the animal’s tail. That could prevent her from diving, which is how sperm whales hunt food. As she grew, the constriction would also slice through her flesh, strangling tissue like a garrote. The line might even amputate her fluke, though infection or starvation would probably do her in first.

At home in Ottawa, Gero pushed back from the computer. He called his wife and tried not to cry.

Digit the sperm whale was not quite four, but Gero had known her family for years. Each spring for a decade the Canadian behavioral ecologist had abandoned his own brood to spend months with these whales in the Caribbean Sea near the tiny West Indies island nation of Dominica.

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Photo: Tim Cole/NOAA/Wikimedia Commons

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