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NOAA ORGANIZES RESCUE TEAM TO DISENTANGLE NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALE:
Rescue Team Awaits Calm Weather as Whale Moves North off North Carolina Coast

NOAA image of attempts to disentangle a northern right whale from fishing gear wrapped around its body. Click here for high resolution version.Dec. 9, 2005 The NOAA Fisheries Service is leading a team of federal, state and non-profit biologists and scientists to rescue an entangled North Atlantic right whale off the southeast coast of the United States. 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. According to Thursday evening and Friday morning estimates, the whale appears to have moved north and is now located off the coast of North Carolina. (Click NOAA image for larger view of attempts to disentangle a northern right whale from fishing gear wrapped around its body. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”) [Podcast]

News Audio of Barb Zoodsma (zohds-mah), a marine mammal biologist and right whale recovery program coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Service Southeast, speaking from the NOAA Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, in Savannah, Ga., on Dec. 8, 2005. (mp3)
Whale entangled :20 Whale fishing line and whale age :12 Whale movement :28 Endangered species :25
Dangerous operation :46 Whale size and rapid movement :21 Natural sound of dientanglement team aboard inflatable boat trying to free the right whale :14

The entangled whale was first spotted last 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.

NOAA image of right whale pulling disentanglement team onboard an inflatable boat.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 NOAA image for larger view of right whale pulling disentanglement team onboard an inflatable boat. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

"It appears that both the pectoral flippers may be involved in the entanglement. Those are very, very difficult to resolve, and then there is one rope that is wrapping around from the right pectoral flipper over to the left pectoral flipper across the back of the animal. And, that one appears to be starting to cut into the animal," 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.

NOAA image of right whale entangled in fishing line, which started to cut into the animal.Zoodsma said it’s very dangerous attempting to disentangle a right whale. “These are feisty animals. One of their defense mechanisms is to swing their tail around and strike at anything that may be threatening to them.” (Click NOAA image for larger view of right whale entangled in fishing line, which started to cut into the animal. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

The rescue team made a second attempted to disentangle the whale on Monday, December 5. The team successfully cut away excess line trailing behind the whale, however, bad weather and rough seas sent them back to port that evening. The team will head offshore for a third attempt as soon as soon as possible. Zoodsma said the entire disentanglement team is on standby and ready to be activated as soon as the seas and weather calm.

The United States Coast Guard is also part of the rescue team. During the disentanglement attempt on Monday, the Coast Guard Cutter Kingfisher and its crew from Mayport, Fla. provided support. The Kingfisher acted as a platform to perform the disentanglement from, provided a hub for offshore communications with NOAA Fisheries Service crews on land, and offered logistical and safety support for the team while offshore.

NOAA image of disentanglement team attaching a telemetry buoy on a right whale in order to track it by satellite.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. (Click NOAA image for larger view of disentanglement team attaching a telemetry buoy on a right whale in order to track it by satellite. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

The NOAA Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving the nation's living marine resources and their habitats through scientific research, management and enforcement. The NOAA Fisheries Service 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, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, 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 nation's coastal and marine resources.

Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and nearly 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Fisheries Service

NOAA Marine Mammals

NOAA on Cetaceans — Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises

Media Contact:
Kim Amendola, NOAA Fisheries Service, (727) 551-5707