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ROUGH SEAS THWART NOAA TEAM ATTEMPT TO REMOVE ROPE FROM
ENDANGERED RIGHT WHALE
Disentanglement Team Returns With Biopsy Samples

Coast Guard Cutter Kingfisher provides assistance to NOAA Fisheries and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission members in the attempts to free a entangled Northern Right Whale 60 miles east of Jacksonville, Fla.March 24, 2004 — Rough seas off the Carolina coast prevented veterinarians and whale experts from NOAA Fisheries and their rescue team partners from attempting to remove rope and buoys from the juvenile male endangered right whale. “We were not able to get any of the rope off of the whale today because of high seas, but we were able to collect tissue samples to help assess its health,” said Teri Rowles, lead veterinarian for NOAA Fisheries and the head of the nation’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. “We will continue to monitor the whale’s location and the weather, and will go out again as soon as possible.” (Click image for larger view of the Coast Guard Cutter Kingfisher provides assistance to NOAA Fisheries and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission members in the attempts to free a entangled Northern Right Whale 60 miles east of Jacksonville, Fla. Click here for high resolution version, which is a large file. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.)

Rough seas off the Carolina coast prevented veterinarians and whale experts from NOAA Fisheries and their rescue team partners from attempting to remove rope and buoys from the juvenile male endangered right whale. “We were not able to get any of the rope off of the whale today because of high seas, but we were able to collect tissue samples to help assess its health,” said Teri Rowles, lead veterinarian for NOAA Fisheries and the head of the nation’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. “We will continue to monitor the whale’s location and the weather, and will go out again as soon as possible.”

Today the team checked the condition of the satellite tracking device to make sure it was still working properly, and they took biopsy samples so they can evaluate the whale’s stress levels and health status. The team noted that the whale is still moving north and traveling quickly.

As soon as the weather permits, the team plans to sedate the whale to slow its movement and use specially constructed tools to try to remove the lines and the buoys that are wrapped around the whale’s body. Members of the same team unsuccessfully tried a similar rescue in July 2001 off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass.

A NOAA Twin Otter/Wildlife Trust aerial team of two pilots and four scientists has provided ongoing support in locating and tracking the whale. Using a radio direction-finding system that tracks a satellite tag on the buoy attached to the whale, the aircraft does a search pattern to locate the whale and directs the Coast Guard cutter to the scene. Because the whale dives frequently, the signal only lasts a few minutes, making the work challenging. The aircraft stays on scene to tell the disentanglement team where the whale is as it dives and resurfaces. Initially, the team took photographs of the whale to help scientists assess the health of the animal and the degree of entanglement.

The NOAA aircraft, piloted by NOAA Corps officers Lt. Phil Hall and Lt. JG Brad Fritzler, is specially equipped with expansive bubble windows and belly viewing port, enabling the team to scan large areas of the ocean and take unobstructed photographs.

Other members of the South Carolina team include disentanglement and whale experts from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass., and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Logistical support is being provided by the U.S. Coast Guard and its crew of the 87-foot Coast Guard Cutter Yellowfin.

On March 19, the team located the whale and was able to remove some of the lines, reducing the drag on the whale. Team members attached a satellite tracking device to track the whale’s position. Since that time, the whale has been steadily traveling north.

The North Atlantic right whale is the most endangered off American coasts. After a period of intense whaling in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was on the brink of extinction. Although whaling practices have ceased, right whales face serious risks from ship collisions and entanglements in fishing gear and marine debris. The North Atlantic right whale population is now estimated to be approximately 300 animals and is listed as “Endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973. Right whales and all other species of marine mammals are also protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

NOAA Fisheries is dedicated to protecting and preserving the nation’s living marine resources and their habitat through scientific research, management and enforcement. NOAA Fisheries provides effective stewardship of these resources for the benefit of the nation, supporting coastal communities that depend upon them, and helping to provide safe and healthy seafood to consumers and recreational opportunities for the American public.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nationís coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program

NOAA Fisheries

NOAA Responsible Marine Wildlife Viewing

Whale Watching Guidelines for the Northeast Region

Map of North Atlantic Whale Approach Zones

Media Contact:
Kent Laborde, NOAA, (240) 481-6310 Laura Engleby, NOAA Fisheries, (786) 525-9612