Snake Eyes (Before 1979-2019)
North Atlantic Right Whale
Year of birth
Snake eyes was born before 1979. He was observed in 1998 in the St. Lawrence Estuary and multiple times since then in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. On July 16, 2019, he was observed swimming freely in the Gulf. His entanglement therefore occurred between July 16 and August 6.
The North Atlantic right whale carcass found off Long Island, New York on September 16 was identified by the New England Aquarium team as Snake Eyes. This male was over 40 years old. He was found severely entangled in fishing rope on August 6 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Snake Eyes becomes the tenth right whale found dead in North American waters in 2019.
For the moment, we cannot confirm the role of entanglement in the whale’s death, as there were no signs of rope on the carcass when it was discovered. During an aerial surveillance flight conducted on August 6, Snake Eyes was spotted severely entangled. In the days that followed, adverse weather conditions prevented the disentanglement experts of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team from venturing out to the site. Surveillance flights did not succeed in relocating the carcass either.
What happened between August 6 and September 16, when the carcass was spotted in an advanced state of decay? It’s impossible to know.
A necropsy was conducted on September 18 by a team consisting of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Center for Coastal Studies. Tissue analyses might help shed more light on the animal’s death.
No, no right whales have been observed in the area of late! Our star of this week is a male named Snake Eyes (#1226), known to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium since 1981. He was photographed in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park in 1998, the first confirmed sighting of this species in the area since the time of the Basques! He was back in the St. Lawrence, near Percé this time, last August. Around the same time, a few people thought they had spotted a right whale in the Estuary on a number of occasions, though were unable to provide confirmation. Had Snake Eyes returned to pay us a little visit here before going to get his picture snapped in the Gaspé?
The history of Snake Eyes provides a good excuse to recall the status of his species in the St. Lawrence. The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is one of the most threatened of all baleen whale species. Even today, after four centuries of intensive whaling, human activities continue to threaten its recovery. Notably, 38% of the mortalities of this species that occurred between 1986 and 2005 were attributable to boat collisions.
Right whales were rarely observed in the St. Lawrence, but since 1994, 32 different right whales (more than 10% of this endangered species!) were identified in the sector, especially in the Percé region, but also near the Mingan Archipelago, in the Magdalen Islands, in Chaleur Bay and in the Estuary. In 2005, five whales were identified in the Gaspé, including a mother with her young.
When observed at sea, right whales are characterized by a V-shaped spout, a broad black back with no dorsal fin and white callosities on the head. When they dive, their entirely black and deeply notched tail may be lifted vertically. They can be observed singly or in groups and can remain under water for 10 to 20 minutes.
If ever you think you see one of these whales in the area, stay alert, maintain a distance of at least 400 m and travel slowly to reduce the risks of collision. That’s not all: being that such a sighting is so invaluable, quickly inform (during the observation if possible) the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network at 1-877 7BALEINE (1-877-722-5346). Take photos: even from afar, they can be used to confirm the species, and photos of the head might allow for identification of the individual. Don’t have a camera? Trade contact information with one or more passengers who managed to capture the moment and put them in touch with the Network! We owe the photos of Snake Eyes’ 1998 visit to a couple of lucky tourists… and the presence of mind of their captain!