NOAA Rescues Entangled Whale in the Open Sea
Earlier this month, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) managed to save a North Atlantic Right Whale which entangled itself in ropes around its mouth and flippers. They sedated the mighty creature in order to get close enough to cut the ropes. This marks only the second time in which an entangled whale has been sedated in open sea.
"Our recent progress with chemical sedation is important because it's less stressful for the animal, and minimizes the amount of time spent working on these animals while maximizing the effectiveness of disentanglement operations," said Jamison Smith, Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator for NOAA's Fisheries Service. "This disentanglement was especially complex, but proved successful due to the detailed planning and collective expertise of the many response partners involved"
The ropes in which the whale was tangled is believed to be fishing gear. Along with ropes, the rescuers found wire mesh material which is commonly found in lobster traps or pot fisheries. The specific fishery remains to be seen pending an investigation. Fisheries and lobster/crab traps are found commonly in the Northeastern US and Canadian coasts, as well as in the mid-Atlantic.
The North Atlantic Right Whale is listed as an endangered species and is protected under the US Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. There are estimated to be only 300-400 left in existence. Two of their biggest threats are swimming into vessels and becoming entangled in fixed fishing gear.
NOAA rescuers hooked on a digital monitoring tag to the whale to record the whale's behavior before, during, and after sedation. The information collected will be instrumental to any future attempts at whale sedation. After the whale was disentangled, they gave the whale antibiotics to treat the wounds and drugs to reverse sedation.
The only other time a whale has been successfully sedated and disentangled was in March 2009 off the coast of Florida. This recent incident also occurred off the coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral. It was reported in the Daytona Beach News Journal.