ORGANIZES RESCUE TEAM TO DISENTANGLE NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALE
Dec. 6, 2005 — The NOAA Fisheries Service will lead a team of federal, state and non-profit biologists and scientists to rescue an entangled North Atlantic right whale that is currently off the coast of Florida. Severe weather and ocean conditions are keeping the team temporarily in port, however, the group is currently tracking the whale using the telemetry buoy they attached Saturday to the 75 feet of rope and fishing gear entangling the whale. The species is the most critically endangered in the Atlantic with only about 300 in existence. (Click image for larger view of northern right whale entangled in fishing gear about 25 miles east of Daytona Beach, Fla. An effort to disentangle the endangered right whale is being coordinated by NOAA and the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kingfisher helped to locate and transport disentanglement crews to aid the whale. Click here for high resolution version. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.)
The entangled whale was first spotted Saturday morning off the Georgia coast during a routine aerial survey conducted by Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife Trust. These aerial surveys are conducted seasonally as part of a formal recovery plan designed to conserve North Atlantic right whales. The aerial survey team alerted NOAA Fisheries Service biologists who immediately assembled a response team.
The team is comprised of experts from NOAA Fisheries Service, United States Coast Guard, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and Wildlife Trust. The NOAA Fisheries Service and the response team deployed Saturday from Brunswick, Ga., to assess the whale's condition and shorten the trailing gear. (Click image for larger view of crews from NOAA, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and the U.S. Coast Guard helping a northern right whale off the coast of Florida, which was entangled in fishing gear. Click here for high resolution version. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.)
"We've tracked the whale's movement since Saturday and it continues to head south, which is typical behavior for right whales at this time of year," said Barb Zoodsma a marine mammal biologist and right whale recovery program coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Service Southeast. According to Zoodsma, many right whales travel south during the winter to calving and nursery areas, and spend summers feeding off the coasts of New England and Canada.
Zoodsma said that disentangling a right whale takes a great deal of planning, expertise and coordination among agencies. Because of the speed of the whale and distances they travel, it sometimes takes days or even weeks under ideal weather and ocean conditions to safely and successfully free the entangled animal.
"We had just completed an intensive on-the-water disentanglement training session the day before we spotted the entangled whale," said Clay George, biologist at Georgia DNR. "We were able to shorten the trailing line as well as attach a satellite buoy so that we would be able to relocate the whale for further disentangle efforts."
The United States Coast Guard and a crew aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Kingfisher from Mayport, Fla., also are part of the rescue team. The Kingfisher will act as a platform to perform the disentanglement, provide a hub for offshore communications with NOAA Fisheries Service crews on land, and offer logistical and safety support for the team while offshore.
"As one of the federal stewards to the marine environment, the Coast Guard has a long history of assisting NOAA Fisheries Service in protecting marine mammals and preserving the nations valuable natural marine resources," said Lt. j.g. Matt Baker, commanding officer of the Kingfisher. "My crew and I are proud to be part of this operation."
The North Atlantic right whale is the most endangered off American coasts. After a period of intense whaling in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the right whale 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 at 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 protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
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