Successful Disentanglement of North Atlantic Right Whale off Florida’s Coast

Written by on January 6, 2011 in Marine Life

A team of state and federal biologists successfully assisted a North Atlantic right whale that was severely entangled in more than 150 feet rope off the coast of Daytona, Florida.

“We were very concerned about this whale as the entangling ropes appeared to be life threatening,” said Jamison Smith, Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service.  “However, given the efforts of the disentanglement team we are optimistic the whale may shed the remaining ropes on their own, so we will continue to monitor its condition via aerial survey and intervene again if necessary.”

The whale was first sighted on Christmas Day by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, during a routine aerial survey designed to spot right whales in known birthing and calving grounds.  The survey teams pass their sightings along so ships can alter their courses to avoid any potential collisions.

This animal is a young whale approximately 30 feet long and born during the 2008-2009 calving season.

A FWC team responded immediately after spotting the whale and in an initial assessment of the situation, a tracking buoy was attached to the trailing lines.

The disentanglement team was lead by Georgia Department of Natural Resources and was assisted by land, sea, and air support from NOAA’s Fisheries Service, FWC, Wildlife Trust, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, and New England Aquarium.

Disentangling a right whale takes complete cooperation and lots of planning, expertise and coordination among the agencies.  Sometimes it can take days or even weeks to successfully disentangle a right whale.

Typically, one or two entangled right whales will be documented each year.  Right whales spend the summer feeding off the coast of New England and Canada and swim to the southeastern waters to give birth from mid-November to mid-April.

Fishing gear removed from whales in previous entanglement cases originated from locations as far away as New England and Canada.  The gear removed from this whale included ropes and wire mesh material, similar to what is found in the trap fisheries for crab and lobster along the mid-Atlantic, northeast U.S., and Canadian coasts.  The specific location and fishery is being examined by experts at NOAA’s Fisheries Service.

North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered whales in the world.  There are only 300-400 in existence and they are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.  Vessel strikes and entanglements in fixed fishing gear are two of the greatest threats to their survival and recovery.

North Atlantic right whales. Photo credit: NOAA

North Atlantic right whales. Photo credit: NOAA

Copyright ©  2011 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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