Expert: Fishing gear likely killed whale

30-foot dead whale washed up on Flagler Beach on Wednesday

Published On: Dec 20 2012 04:36:45 PM EST   Updated On: Dec 20 2012 04:39:16 PM EST
FLAGLER BEACH, Fla. -

It was a peaceful day on Flagler Beach on Thursday, but 24 hours before, it was organized chaos as a team of experts tried to figure out why a 1-year old North Atlantic right whale died off the coast.

They worked much of the night performing a necropsy. Many times the whales are killed by ship strike or after they get caught in fishing gear.

Preliminary necropsy results show the latter. Experts say the 30-foot whale had fishing gear wrapped around its tail and indentations and bruises indicating more fishing gear was wrapped around its fins and head.

IMAGES: Dead right whale washes ashore

"We do have pretty good evidence of long-term entanglement that probably slowed the animal and weakened it to the point where it probably wasn't able to feed very effectively recently because of the gear that was in its mouth," said Bill McLellan, a leading expert in right whales from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. "The hard part is making sure we really document these tragedies extremely well so we try to make sure they don't happen again, is the most important part of this."

McLellan said the fishing industry is a partner in trying to reduce the number of animals caught in their gear, and they're working to try to do that by making fishing gear more visible to whales and strong enough to catch fish, but breakable if, say, a 30,000-pound whale gets caught in it.

"Strategic parts of the gear have to be able to break and allow that gear to be released off the animal so the animal can swim away and continue on its normal course of what it wants to do in a day," McLellan said.

It takes a lot of work to save the right whales, but many say it's worth it. And with only about 400 left in the world, experts have to do everything they can to learn from their deaths.

As for the whale that washed up Wednesday, it was buried on the beach.