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    Four Entangled Right Whales Sighted in Cape Cod Waters - March 14, 2008


    Four entangled right whales have been sighted in the waters around Cape Cod during the month of March and three of these whales have been sighted multiple times.  One of these entanglement cases, right whale #1140 was newly discovered this month and the other three cases, right whales #s 2645, 1980, and 3446 were previously known to have entanglements.


    Right whale #1140 a female nicknamed “Wart” was first sighted with an entanglement in Cape Cod Bay on March 6 by the PCCS aerial survey team during a survey funded by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to examine the seasonal distribution and abundance of right whales in waters surrounding Cape Cod.  Wart is an animal well known to right whale researchers.  She was first identified in 1981 and is known to have produced 6 calves over her lifetime, the last one born in 2005.  Wart was last seen April 22, 2007 and was not entangled at that time. The entangling line appeared to be caught in her baleen plates on the left side of her mouth.  Both bitter ends of the white line were visible, one trailed back almost to her flukes and the other trailed back approximately one hundred feet beyond her flukes sinking out of sight underwater most of the time.  Both R/V IBIS and R/V SHEARWATER were mobilized in an effort to better assess this entanglement.  The plane departed just before twilight and left both boats searching for the whale among a loose aggregation of about a dozen right whales in the area, all making 16 to 18 minute dives.  The vessels were able to relocate the whale and get documentation photos but were not able to get close enough before darkness set in to attach to the trailing gear.

    Wart was sighted by the aerial survey team the 11th and the 14th and both times the disentanglement team aboard R/V IBIS responded.  On the 11th the whale made dives of up to 20 minutes and moved over a mile between surfacings making approaches difficult.  On the 14th the team was able to use a cutting grapple to shorten the longer of the two bitter ends cutting off about one hundred feet of line so it ended near the flukes.  Unfortunately the line sank before it could be recovered.  Shortening this line will greatly reduce the chances that the remaining line will get tangled in other gear or get wrapped around any other parts of the whale.  The remaining entanglement is not deemed to be life-threatening at this point, but the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network will be on the lookout for this whale to monitor its entanglement.


    Right whale #2645 was the first right whale spotted in Cape Cod Bay by the PCCS aerial survey team in 2008 and she was entangled.  She was sighted on January 12 with green line exiting the right side of her mouth and only one bitter end was visible trailing about ½ a body length beyond her flukes.  Right whale # 2645 is also an adult female.  She was last seen without an entanglement on September 17, 2007 in the Bay of Fundy.  R/V SHEARWATER was diverted from it research cruise examining the food resources available to right whales in Cape Cod Bay to work with this entangled whale.  The team aboard the SHEARWATER was able to photograph and document the entanglement but could not get close enough to attach to the trailing gear. 

    PCCS Image, taken under NOAA permit 932-1489, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and MMPA - request PCCS permission for use.

    Right whale #2645 was sighted again on March 11 by the aerial survey team and the disentanglement team aboard R/V IBIS responded.  This was a busy day for both the plane and the on water disentanglement team with two entangled whales, 1140 and 2645, in the same area.  With the help of the aerial survey crew the disentanglement team aboard IBIS was able to get a grapple onto the trailing line but this line parted quickly under pressure, removing the frayed bitter end.  This piece of line was retrieved for analysis by National Marine Fisheries gear specialists.

    Three entangled right whales were sighted in the waters around Cape Cod on March 14, #1140 Wart as previously mentioned and #1980 were both seen by the PCCS aerial survey team in Cape Cod Bay, and #3346 nicknamed Kingfisher was sighted in the Great South Channel approximately 25 nautical miles ESE of Chatham by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aerial survey. 

    Kingfisher is a male whale that was first seen entangled off the coast of Florida on March 17, 2004 and was the subject of intensive disentanglement efforts that month and much, but not all of the entangling gear was removed.  He was tagged with a telemetry buoy and tracked for 11 days as he swam northward to just offshore of the Maryland – Delaware border.  The buoy was cut off by a well meaning vessel and at that time and brought in to port.  Kingfisher has lived with the gear entangling his right flipper since that time and has been sighted numerous times along the Atlantic seaboard in the intervening years.  He seems to be tolerating the entanglement and is currently an entangled whale that we are monitoring.

    PCCS Image, taken under NOAA permit 932-1489, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and MMPA - request PCCS permission for use.

    Right whale #1980 was first reported to be entangled by an aerial survey team for University of North Carolina Wilmington on February 3, 2008 when they sighted this whale off Cape Hateras, NC.  Aerial photos of the entangled whale showed line exiting both sides of the mouth and an indentation on the rostrum or upper jaw, but it was unclear if there was line wrapped around the upper jaw.  There were also wounds visible in the tail stock region. Right whale #1980 is an adult male first identified in 1989.  He was last seen without an entanglement in June 2007 in the Gulf of Maine. 

    When he was sighted in Cape Cod Bay on March 14 the disentanglement team responded aboard R/V IBIS.  The whale was found in a loose aggregation of right whales which also included “Wart” which the team removed rope from as mentioned above. The PCCS habitat studies team aboard R/V SHEARWATER was also nearby and reported that whales appeared to be alternately diving to the bottom and skim-feeding on two dense plankton layers, one near the seafloor and one at the surface. Right whale 1980 was skim-feeding when first found, giving the disentanglement crew a good opportunity to document and assess his entanglement, though light level was low.

    The entanglement consists of rope wrapped around the rostrum exiting both sides of the mouth.  This wrap does not appear to be simple, and may have a series of twists or knots at the gum line (at least on the left side). On the right side of the rostrum the line appears to be deeply embedded. On the left side of the rostrum, the line appears to be loose, and moves in and out of scarred grooves along the lip line (the only visible stretch of rope at the rostrum is on the left side). The rope exits either side of the mouth, trailing to the tail stock region on the right, and mid-body on the left. It was not possible to confirm, either in the field or through photographs, that these trailing lines are free of knots.  The condition of the whale seems to be poor. Besides the deep wounds at the rostrum, there are active wounds in the tail stock region and some evidence of scarring at the flippers. The animal appears thin, and has patchy pale skin.

    The team discussed a few options considering the time of day and in the field assessment. Because 1980 and a few other right whales were at least sporadically skim-feeding, the team opted to use an extendible 30-foot pole and a fixed hook knife in an attempt to cut the loop of line over the rostrum. The whale was skim-feeding for seven minutes before it changed its behavior and began traveling with 8-10-minute dives. The team had no reasonable opportunities to make an approach for either cutting or grappling. Eventually both the aerial and shipboard teams lost sight of the whale as it became dark and weather conditions deteriorated.

    We hope that the food resources that have attracted right whales into Cape Cod Bay will remain plentiful and that when weather conditions improve that right whale 1980 will be resighted and the disentanglement team will have another opportunity to free this whale of its entangling gear.

    These disentanglement efforts would not be possible without the continuing support of the MA-DMF which diverted staff in an effort to assist in the disentanglement efforts.  The PCCS disentanglement team operates under a federal permit issued by NOAA.  Disentanglement activities remain an essential method to respond to entangled whales in distress and to collect documentation and scientific data on all aspects of whale disentanglements. 

    click here to read about previous entanglements


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