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Snow cone with her calf. © Georgia DNR/NOAA permit 20556

Snow Cone is a special whale

Meet Snow Cone, she is a very rare North Atlantic right whale.  There are sadly fewer than 350 of these whales left on Earth …..imagine how rare they are – do you for example have more than 350 children in your school?  

Snow Cone is named after the white snow cone-shaped pattern on her head that we use to identify her. Each whale’s name describes their unique patterns of markings and scars and helps us tell them apart.

Snow cone in April
Snow Cone in April 2022. you can see the rope trailing from Snow Cone’s mouth and head. © Center for Coastal Studies/NOAA permit 18786

Snow Cone is an extraordinary whale. She is 17 years old she and is enormous, measuring around 14m head to tail and weighing more than 40 tonnes. Despite her bulk, she is agile in her watery home. In the summer months, this gentle giant eats zooplankton by the tonne every day. She swims through clouds of zooplankton with her mouth open so that she can use the baleen plates in her mouth to sieve her prey from the seawater.

Why are there so few?

There used to be an estimated 9000 to 21000 North Atlantic right whales swimming wild and free in the ocean. But early commercial whalers declared these slow moving whales the ‘right’ whales to kill and they hunted them in their thousands. Whale numbers plummeted and by the early 1890s North Atlantic right whales were on the brink of extinction. Today they are one of the most critically endangered great whales on the planet.

Snow Cone's Story

There are fewer than 100 precious female North Atlantic right whales alive today who like Snow Cone are old enough to breed and give birth to the next generation.  Her first baby was a boy but tragically he died at only 6 months old after being hit twice by vessels.

Last March Snow Cone was spotted on the whales’ feeding grounds in Cape Cod. She had a large amount of rope (fishing gear) around her head and entangled in her baleen. The Center for Coastal Studies’ professional whale disentanglement team successfully removed over 90 meters of rope from her. Unfortunately, some rope proved impossible to remove at the time and they had to leave it there to tackle another day.

Snow Cone must have been pregnant at the time she became entangled because she gave birth to a her second baby last December in the warm waters off the coast of Florida where the whales migrate to breed. The awesome Snow Cone then managed to complete the return journey to Cape Cod of over 1000 miles whilst nursing and taking care of her newborn. This is an epic achievement against all the odds, and it is the first time such a feat has been recorded.

Every North Atlantic right whale baby is a priceless addition to the survival hopes for this species.  The Center for Coastal Studies whale disentanglement team is keeping a very close watch on Snow Cone and her baby in case they need some emergency help. Otherwise, they will wait until Snow Cone ‘s baby is weaned and it is safer to try and remove the remaining rope.

Why do whales get entangled?  

Accidental entanglement in fishing rope is a serious threat to the recovery of these endangered North Atlantic right whales. We think that whales accidentally swim into ropes used to mark fishing gear while they are distracted by feeding. Unfortunately, because their mouths are open when feeding, the ropes often get entangled in their baleen. If the rope gets stuck it is impossible for the whale to remove it and it can hamper their ability to feed properly.

An entangled whale such as Snow Cone must endure the pain of injuries and infections they sustain from the rope cutting into them, the reduced amount of food they are able to eat, and the extra effort it takes just to drag the heavy rope through the ocean.  An entangled whale becomes weaker and is more likely to die.

Prevent Deaths in Nets

North Atlantic right whales are dying faster than they can reproduce and so their overall numbers are falling. The only way to turn this situation around is to reduce the human threats the whales face and fully protect them. WDC is doing everything we can to help keep these whales safe. Preventing both vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear is key to the future survival of Snow Cone, her baby and their fellow North Atlantic right whales including Batman, Musketeer, Twister, Dune, Spindle, Tripelago, and Epic.

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