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    Plot of satellite-tagged entangled right whale
    Latest news - click here - updated Dec. 31, 2004
    Editors & Reporters:  For information contact Theresa Barbo, CCS Director of Communications, (508) 487-3622 x103
    Track of an entangled right whale first reported of the Virginia coast 
    on December 5, 2004.
    The last position shown, from the morning of December 31, 2004, is based on satellite telemetry from a tracking buoy attached to the entangling gear.
    As of that fix the whale had been tracked for 924 nautical miles.
    Update:  December 31, 2004 12:30 PM
    The disentanglement team aboard the Yellow Fin has just reported in via satellite phone that the whale is now, apparently, completely free of all gear.  The operation took place approximately 30 miles off the South Carolina coast.  Participating in the mission were Dr. Charles "Stormy" Mayo, David Morin and Scott Landry of the Center for Coastal Studies; Jamison Smith, Tom Pitchford and Alicia Windham-Reid from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Clay George of Georgia DNR and Barb Zoodsma and Gretchen Lovewell of NOAA-Fisheries.

    This morning the team began by adding drag (buoys and a drogue) to the gear trailing from the whale in an attempt to slow it down and make access to the wraps on the head possible.  The whale did not react as hoped and instead fought the added drag and the team was unable to reach the head wrap.  Next, as was previously planned, addtional drag was added to the gear by pressure from one of the inflatable boats.  Shortly thereafter the team felt a line part and the Wildlife Trust South Carolina aerial team circling overhead reported that no gear was now visible on the whale.

    This whole operation was done while everything was in motion, with travel and direction dictated by the whale.  The team has been following the whale and was actually working on it as both were moving steadily southwest at about 3 knots (3.5 statute miles (5.5 kilometers) per hour).  From the time the team arrived at the whale at 3:30 yesterday afternoon until the whale was released at 11:00 this morning, the team and the whale had traveled together for 50 nautical miles (57.5 miles or 92.6 kilometers).

    The team is currently steaming into port at Charleston and will assist NOAA with further investigation of the recovered gear.

    The success of this operation, really, beyond our hopes, owes much to the efforts of many individuals and organizations within the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network.  Especially, it would not have been possible to even reach the whale yesterday without the efforts of Blair Mase and Barb Zoodsma of NOAA - SER, Bill McLellan of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, the Wildlife Trust/NOAA aerial teams from Georgia and South Carolina, Jamison Smith of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Bob Bowman of the Center for Coastal Studies, and especially the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Yellow Fin.   In their honor, the disentanglement team has named this whale Yellow Fin.

    Update:  December 31, 2004 8:30 AM
    The the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Yellow Fin, along with the disentanglement team, remained with the whale as it traveled through the night for 37 nautical miles until dawn.  Disentanglement operations will continue today.

    Update:  December 30, 2004 6:30 PM
    Beginning at 3:30 this afternoon, the disentanglement team, working from the NOAA 21' rigid hull inflatable, made 15 to 20 attempts to reach the lines crossing tightly over the whale's head without attempting to add addtional control lines to the trailing gear.  The whale immediately became extremely evasive and the team was unsuccessful in these attempts.

    The team was successful at removing a considerable amount of the gear trailing behind the whale.  They also repositioned the telemetry buoy behind two medium size floats spaced 15 feet apart and now attached to the remaining gear trailing approximately 90 feet behind the flukes.  The telemetry buoy which is now at the surface nearly all the time, was fitted with a strobe to allow easy tracking through the night.

    Sea conditions are calm and clear.

    Tomorrow morning, the team plans to add addtional, large floats near the tail of the whale to keep it at the surface and, hopefully, better enable further attempts to cut the lines on the whale's head.

    Update:  December 30, 2004 3:30 PM
    The Wildlife Trust/Georgia DNR/NOAA Twin Otter just reported in by satellite phone that they have located the whale several miles southeast of the Charleston breakwater.  The Yellowfin is nearby with the disentanglement team.  The whale continues to travel SSW at approximately 2 knots.

    Update:  December 30, 2004 1:00 PM
    Within the hour, the disentanglement team will board the USCG cutter Yellowfin in Charleston, South Carolina.  This is the same vessel they worked from last spring with entangled right whale, Kingfisher. 

    They hope to catch up with the whale this afternoon, do what they can during remaining 
    daylight hours, then stay with the whale overnight and continue disentanglement operations tomorrow.  The NOAA vessel R/V Ferguson from the Grays Reef National Marine Sanctuary is expected to relieve the Yellowfin first thing tomorrow morning and act as the mothership for tomorrow's operations.

    Weather forecasts for the period are for favorable working conditions in the area.

    Update:  December 30, 2004 7:30 AM
    Beginning yesterday afternoon and continuing overnight, satellite telemetry indicates that the whale has changed direction and is now traveling generally southwesterly.  Therefore, the whale did not come within range of disentanglement teams staged in Wilmington, NC, and on-water operations have been postponed for the morning.

    A Wildlife Trust/NOAA aircraft, stationed in Charleston, South Carolina will attempt to collect more images of the whale today for reassessment of the entanglement.  Meanwhile, on-water disentanglement teams are preparing to re-stage operations farther south.

    Update:  December 29, 2004  4:00 PM
    The Center for Coastal Studies along with disentanglement teams from the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic will be staging in Wilmington, North Carolina tonight for a possible attempt to cut entangling lines and reduce the gear trailing from the entangled right whale first reported off Cape Hatteras on December 6.  The tentative plan is to locate the whale based on the latest telemetry and projected position along with the help of a surveillance aircraft on Thursday afternoon.  If the whale is found, the entanglement will be reassessed on-scene and operations will proceed as conditions allow. If it is believed that further efforts will be productive, a vessel will track the whale overnight with the disentanglement team for an early morning effort on Friday.

    The goal of these operations will be to attempt actions hoped to improve the long-term prospects for this whale, however complete disentanglement is unlikely at this time due the nature of the entanglement.

    The success of this operation is dependent, as always, on workable weather conditions, including relatively calm seas and good visibility.  Also, preliminary planning is based on a three-day projection of the track of the whale; this will be continuously updated and logistics will be altered to the extent possible and necessary.

      Whale disentanglement images were obtained under NOAA-Fisheries research and enhancement permit 932-1489 under the authority of the Marine Mammal and/or Endangered Species Acts

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