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Researcher Whose Ancestors Hunted Whales Says He’s Repaying Score

August 1, 1985

PROVINCETOWN, Mass. (AP) _ Whale researcher Charles Mayo III, descendant of a family of New England whale hunters, says he is repaying a score as he leads the search for a 40- foot humpback whale threatened with starvation because its mouth is tangled in fishing line.

Mayo, 41, director of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, said Wednesday night he wants to save the 30-ton whale’s life ″because it is an emotional link with animals that my ancestors hunted.

″In a sense, I represent all of us whose ancesters had a role to play in the demise of the whale. I don’t think that I’m paying them back, but in a sense, I am.″

Mayo and other center scientists worked until late Tuesday to remove about 125 feet of line from the whale, which they have named Digit. Poor weather caused the search for Digit to be suspended on Wednesday.

They estimated another 250 feet of line remained wound around the mammal’s mouth, flipper, body and tail.

Scientists believe the line, called long line by fishermen, is hampering the whale’s breathing, swimming and eating, said center spokesman John Andrews.

Scientists from the marine center had been on alert since July 20, when the troubled animal was first sighted by a whale-watching boat. The whale was not seen again until Monday night.

Digit, named for a fingerlike marking on its tail, has been a seasonal resident of Stellwagen Bank, off Provincetown, since 1978 and is known as one of the area’s most acrobatic whales.

Mayo said his father, Charles Mayo Jr., harpooned pilot whales as a boy and is the last whaler in a family that goes back 11 generations on Cape Cod. The elder Mayo, 74, now is the captain of the center’s research vessel.

″He’s much better as a conservationist than as a harpoonist,″ said the son, who has tracked whales for 11 years.

″It appears Digit has been fasting, starving,″ he said. ″It is showing hollows in the back. It’s losing its blubber. It loses its energy, but it’s bad because humpbacks need blubber to stay warm. Its situation is perilous in that regard.

″We will be in a go position as soon as we get another report on the whale. The way these things go, the whale may show up the next good day or it may not show up for three weeks. This is a whale that seasonably resides on Stellwagen and the guess is that we have a lot of the season left before the whales start migrating.″

Mayo said he and other researchers worked on the whale Tuesday from inflatable motor boats in water 300 feet deep.

″It’s not safe but it’s as safe as it can be,″ he said. ″Any error probably will be lethal to us since the whale is moving at such speed and such depth. I think it is worth it.

’These are endangered species. My ancesters killed their ancestors... When whales were important, you can bet some of my people killed them. We put our lives on the line not to kill them but to save them.″

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