On March 3, 2005, the carcass of a right whale was found high and dry on an isolated beach near the mouth of the Chesapeake, in Virginia. A US Coast Guard helicopter crew photographed the animal and images were forwarded to right whale researchers. The individual has been identified by the New England Aquarium (NEAq) as an adult female, #2301, an animal that was found entangled in September 2004.
Carcass of right whale #2301- note tangle of lines on the baleen protruding from the mouth and overall condition of body. Image courtesy US Coast Guard.
The carcass was half buried in sand and broken shell on a difficult-to-access island. Despite the setting and foul weather researchers from the Virginia Aquarium (VAq) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) were able to gather information from the highly decomposed animal. The team was also able to collect samples of the remaining entangling lines. Heavy machinery, generally necessary for such a large carcass (the animal measured just over 45 feet), could not access the island.
Wounds on the animalís body matched a known entanglement case but confirmation of the identity, made complicated by the condition of the carcass, came from the NEAq. Right whale #2301 was born in 1993 and gave birth to a calf in 2003. She was last seen alive off Nagís Head, North Carolina, in early December 2004. At that time she was traveling close to shore with another right whale and was photographed by the local fire marshal. Prior to this sighting, she was at the center of a disentanglement attempt on Browns Bank, Nova Scotia on September 22, 2004.
Right whale #2301 in September 2004 - note tight lines over blowholes and leading to the left flipper (seen as light green through water). Note also patchy skin and random spots of whale lice. Image courtesy New England Aquarium.
At that time PCCS, NEAq and members of the Campobello disentanglement team made an attempt to remove the entangling lines. The whale was known to be entangled around the head and left flipper with little or no trailing line, reducing disentanglement options. The left flipper had turned pale to almost white. In heavy seas the team worked to cut snug lines that bisected the animalís blowholes. By day's end the team was able to make contact with one of the lines but could not confirm if the line had parted. Images from the subsequent Nagís Head sighting indicate that the line had likely been cut. It is believed that the entangling lines around her flipper had not come free and would pose a threat to the animal.
Findings regarding the case of this animal will be published in a necropsy report being prepared by WHOI and VAq.
click here to read about previous entanglements