Five severely entangled North Atlantic Right whales have been identified this calving season; one of them – shown above – has now been detangled in a first-ever successful attempt to sedate a free-swimming large whale. The operation took place last Friday, March 6, 2009, when NOAA Fisheries Service and its Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Team partners used sedation to assist the severely entangled whale.
A Wildlife Trust aerial survey team spotted the whale off the Georgia coast on January 14, 2009. A Georgia Department of Natural Resources crew responded immediately via boat to assess the whale’s condition, attach a tracking buoy, and remove 560 feet of trailing rope. As the whale was still severely entangled disentanglement teams attempted new rescues on January 22 and 23, February 1 and March 5. The whale’s evasiveness gave the teams great difficulties to safely approach it enough to cut the entangling ropes. This finally changed when the sedation team successfully administered sedatives to the whale on March 6 enabling the disentangling team to safely get close enough to the severely injured right whale to remove and additional 380 feet of rope.
The following entities participated in this history-making effort: NOAA Fisheries Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Coastwise Constulting, Inc, Woods Hole Oceanograpic Institution, University of Florida, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, New England Aquarium, Wildlife Trust, United States Coast Guard.
According to a NOAA spokesperson, the tracking buoy has in the meantime been removed. Commenting on the decision to sacrifice the tracking buoy, Barb Zoodsma, Right whale biologist for NOAA Fisheries, said, “We knew that cutting the line would result in removal of the telemetry buoy, but we all felt it more important to alleviate the whale of its burden than for us to be able to track it. The whale has not been seen since we left it on March 6. It was in very bad shape. However, it stands a better chance of surviving than it did on March 4.” Although this animal will not be able to be tracked electronically, NOAA’s aerial survey teams will continue to look for the whale on their regular flights.
Copyright © 2009 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC