NOAA DISENTANGLEMENT TEAM WORKS
TO REMOVE MATERIAL FROM ENDANGERED RIGHT WHALE
Dec. 15, 2005 — Early Monday morning the right whale disentanglement team boarded the Coast Guard Cutter “Elm” and cruised toward the last known location of the distressed whale. The team was comprised of members from NOAA Fisheries Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and Wildlife Trust. The United States Coast Guard provided a workable platform at sea, as well as expertise in locating the entangled right whale, which had moved approximately 30 miles off of the coast of North Carolina. (Click NOAA image for larger view of the Coast Guard Cutter ELM, which served as a platform during the whale rescue on Dec. 12, 2005. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
Dispatching from the Coast Guard station at Fort Macon, N.C., the team cruised through the night arriving at the whale’s last known location just before dawn. The team worked diligently to re-locate the whale throughout the morning and, with the help and expertise of Coast Guard Lt. J.G. Russ Zuckerman, spotted the whale heading northeast at approximately four to five knots around 11 a.m. EST off the coast of Cape Hatteras, N.C. (Click NOAA image for larger view of attempts to disentangle a northern right whale from fishing gear wrapped around its body on Dec. 12, 2005. Right whales have large bumps on their head called callosities; there are only about 300 right whales in existence today. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
The disentanglement team scrambled their gear, including an inflatable raft and large Norwegian buoys, down to the rough seas of the Atlantic to get closer to the whale and concentrate on removing the 75 feet of remaining rope entangling the whale’s fins and back.
The team then worked five hours to free the entanglement gear. They were successful at removing much of the gear and collecting a tissue biopsy from the whale. Unfortunately, right at dusk, the telemetry buoy that had been signaling the whale’s location broke free. The team stayed with the whale as long as possible, but lost their ability to track the whale once darkness set in. (Click NOAA image for larger view of the Disentanglement Team using a small inflatable boat to get as close as possible to the whale on Dec. 12, 2005. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
“This whale is fairly young and will grow quickly,” said Barb Zoodsma, a marine mammal biologist and right whale recovery program coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Service Southeast. “As the whale matures, the remaining rope will become increasingly tighter and can begin to ‘saw’ into whale’s skin.”
The team arrived back at Fort Macon the following morning and rushed the sample to a laboratory for a biopsy. The sample will provide information on the whale’s gender and health. It is unknown if future attempts to remove the remaining material will be possible; however, the team remains in standby mode if this whale, or any other entangled or injured whale, is sighted. An estimated 12 right whales remain entangled, but due to their evasiveness and challenges involved in sufficiently track their movements, many of these whales may remain entangled and can eventually die as a result. (Click NOAA image for larger view of the ELM 2 and the Disentanglement Team work in the open sea to rescue the whale on Dec. 12, 2005. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
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.
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. (Click NOAA image for larger view of NOAA and USCG personnel aboard the ELM 2 moving closer to disentangle the whale on Dec. 12, 2005. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
For more history of this right whale disentanglement, please refer to previous related NOAA news story.
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