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    Right whale, Kingfisher, found entangled 


    Update, 1/12/05(see story and updates below): Against all odds this whale was sighted alive on 1/11/05 at sunset  off the southern Georgia coast. The whale was sighted by a New England Aquarium aerial team during a survey of right whale winter habitat. The whale was found in association with other right whales, and, despite its continued entanglement, appeared to be in relatively good condition. Disentanglement first-responders from Florida and Georgia re-sighted Kingfisher today (1/12/05) and obtained further documentation of its entanglement. They confirmed that the whale only has line at the right flipper (the wraps of line on the body and left flipper are now gone). Shedding of gear is not uncommon in whales but this particular case is surprising considering the complexity of its original entanglement. The whale and its entanglement will be monitored through opportunistic sightings.

    right whale, Kingfisher, on 1/11/05 - note bundle of wraps at right flipper
    image courtesy New England Aquarium, Boston


    right whale, Kingfisher, tows rescue team during disentanglement assessment
    FMRI image taken under NOAA-Fisheries permit 932-1489, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts - please request PCCS permission for use

    Update, 4/3/04:
    The captain of a fishing vessel based in Cape May called the Disentangement Network hotline this morning to report that he had Kingfisher's telemetry buoy aboard his boat.  He reports that he apparently ran over the buoys' tether while steaming prior to beginning a tow yesterday morning and caught the line in his propeller or rudder.  He retrieved the buoy along with approximately 30 feet of tether line.  The buoy was believed to be towing only 50 feet behind the whale at the time.  It is not believed that the whale itself was hit.

    During a further interview it was learned that the vessel operator never saw the either the buoy or the whale and, although he had been following Kingfisher's story in the news with much nterest, he was not immediately aware of what he had caught.  The captain was very helpful in recalling the events of his day which were easily confirmed by the track of the telemetry buoy that continued to transmit while aboard his vessel.  Along with the final track of Kingfisher, we have plotted the track of the vessel after the buoy was brought aboard. See plot.

    The distance covered by the buoy between satellite fixes while it was towed by the whale was 849 nautical miles. The buoy has been retrieved from the vessel by the Coast Guard in Cape May and will be returned to service in the Disentanglement Network.

    Update, 4/2/04: This morning, Kingfisher is 35 miles offshore and is passing outside the entrance to Delaware Bay. See plot.  His velocity continued to average just over 2 knots overnight.

    There is a slight lull in the otherwise very poor weather forecast today - however, conditions are far from favorable for work at sea and are expected to worsen considerably tomorrow.

    Update, 4/1/04: We continue to receive data from Kingfisher's satellite buoy consistently as he moves north along the Virginia coast.  This morning, Kingfisher is traveling at just more than two knots, approximately 24 NM off the beach at Assateague Island, Virginia.  He is anticipated to continue this general track - 20-30 miles offshore throughout the day. See plot.

    Weather, in his current location -- 15 - 25 kt. S - SW winds and seas of 5 - 10 feet --continues to prevent further disentanglement efforts at sea and is not expected to improve through the first of next week, the current forecast period.

    Update, 3/31/04: Kingfisher continued to track to the north yesterday and overnight, however his overall velocity has slowed to approximately 1.5 knots.  At 7:05 this morning he was located 30 NM southeast of Parramore Is., Virginia, moving north northeast.

    Weather in this area continues with high seas (~6-8 feet) including rain and fog, with similar conditions expected for the next couple of days only to worsen later.  Kingfisher is anticipated to move out of the mid-Atlantic region before a weather window opens for another disentanglement attempt. To better understand the greater context of the disentanglement/entanglement process, see here.

    Update, 3/30/03: Kingfisher continued to track to the north yesterday and overnight, however his overall velocity has slowed to approximately two knots.  At 7:07 this morning he was located just southeast of Virginia Beach, VA, approximately 35 NM offshore moving north at 2 knots. 

    Weather in this area continues with high seas (~12 feet) with some, but not significant, decrease of wind and seastate expected during the week. Kingfisher is anticipated to move out of the mid-Atlantic region before a weather window opens for another disentanglement attempt.

    Update, 3/29/04: During the day yesterday and overnight the weather in the vicinity of Kingfisher grew progressively worse with northeast winds 20 - 30 knots and seas 15 - 20 feet.  Winds this morning are still in the 20 knot range with very steep 12 foot seas.  Gale warnings are in effect for this area. Although the weather is likely to improve somewhat during the week, winds and seas will remain very high. 

    The fixes position the whale approximately 50 NM east of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina at 7:02 this morning, still moving north at an average velocity of approximately 3 knots. 

    Although it appears that Kingfisher has moved offshore into very deep water (~1000 fathoms) he has likely remained west of the Gulf Stream which, north of Cape Hatteras, veers east sharply. 

     Update, 3/27/03: After lingering just off the Beaufort, North Carolina shore yesterday afternoon, Kingfisher rounded Cape Lookout at 4am and was traveling once again to the north at 3 - 4 knots.  Disentanglement operations are suspended for the day, and, due to expected foul weather for the next several days, may not resume for some time. 

    Update, 3/26/04: due to the distance of Kingfisher from the disentanglement effort's staging area in Wilmington, officials made the difficult determination to abort the planned operation for today.  The travel time necessary to reach the location of the whale would not have left enough daylight hours to perform the operations necessary to attempt to free it. The NOAA Twin Otter/Wildlife Trust team, which flew from St. Simon's Island, Georgia in the pre-dawn hours to participate in today's events, were directed to the latest satellite fixes, near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, to attempt to locate and further document the whale and any possible changes in the status of the entanglement. 

    At this time the Twin Otter team is circling the whale approximately five miles west of the southern tip of Cape Lookout and eight miles south of Morehead City/Beaufort.  A small team of disentanglers is traveling to Morehead on the chance that the whale remains in that area for a time; however, it is anticipated that the whale will round the Cape Lookout Shoals and continue north toward Cape Hatteras today. 

    Update, 3/25/04: poor weather conditions allowed for further planning into the disentanglement attempt on right whale Kingfisher, scheduled for tomorrow. Few, low-quality satellite fixes from the buoy towed by the whale were received today and may have to do with the animals' speed coupled with a heavy chop. The tag will be used to search for the whale by plane in the morning. 

    Due to the complexity and the dangers involved with this particular entanglement, the disentanglement attempt will involve a larger than usual effort in the level of staffing and techniques. If the more traditional methods (as expressed by the techniques at this site) prove unsuccessful, NOAA-Fisheries is prepared to attempt sedation of this animal, a technique that has been tried on a free-ranging entangled whale only once before (see the story of right whale Churchill). The sedation effort may be augmented by NOAA divers to increase safety. Successful sedation could calm the animal enough to allow safer access to the rope wound tightly around this animals' flippers and decrease pain to these areas. Periodic updates of tomorrows events will be posted here when available. 

    Update, 3/24/04: a disentanglement attempt was mounted today with the help of the USCG out of Georgetown, S.C. The team left port at 6am and headed north as the NOAA-Twin Otter/Wildlife Trust aerial survey team, equipped with telemetry gear, headed to the projected location of Kingfisher. Sea conditions were far worse than predicted, and right whale Kingfisher was not sighted by the plane until midday. The shipboard team, on the USCG vessel Yellowfin joined the survey team and deployed an  inflatable. Sea conditions were unworkable and the whale was traveling quickly and steadily north. After a brief assessment, the disentanglement attempt was called off in light of better sea conditions forecasted for tomorrow. 

    Update, 3/23/04: over the next two- to three-days, a collaborative disentanglement event will be undertaken for this young right whale, nicknamed 'Kingfisher' in honor of the USCG vessel that was so helpful on 3/19 (see below). Satellite tracking of this animal will be used to monitor its movements as it continues its way slowly north along the Mid-Atlantic coast (all parties are urged to keep clear of this animal to reduce stress). Any disentanglement attempt will require relatively fine sea conditions. The team is likely to set out from the South Carolina coast tomorrow, with sea conditions that are predicted to be relatively fair. 

    The prognosis for this animal is considered very poor and it is not known if infection has already become part of its condition. The whale is believed to be just over one-year old (born off the Georgia/Florida coast during the winter of 2002/2003) and has heavy line wrapped numerous times around both flippers- a notoriously dangerous and difficult area for disentanglement. As expected from any wild animal, this whale has shown no inclination to tolerate the close approach of people (see faq page). Human safety will be of the utmost importance for this and all disentanglement attempts. The list of institutions and individuals contributing to this effort is very long but, includes: PCCS, NOAA-Fisheries, The US Coast Guard, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the New England Aquarium, the Wildlife Trust, University of Wisconsin, the Virginia Marine Science Museum, the University of North Carolina and more. Updates will be posted here. 

    Update, 3/19/04, 8pm: the disentanglement team aboard the USCG vessel is headed back to land at this hour. The team successfully removed a tightly embedded line just behind the blowholes and at least one wrap of line around the left flipper (see diagram below). Despite the removal of the embedded line behind the blowholes, this whale continues to carry a life-threatening entanglement. The team found numerous, tight wraps of heavy line around both flippers and were unable to remove these due to the forward motion of the animal, its high level of activity and sea state. There is a high degree of concern that these wraps are likely to lead to complications due to the young age of the animal and its potential growth. The team left the telemetry buoy attached to the entangling gear to monitor this animal while a new action plan is created. Special thanks goes to the USCG crew for their incredible support. Updates will be posted here. 

    Update, 3/19/04, 8am: the disentanglement team headed out of Mayport at 7am, aboard an 87-foot U.S. Coast Guard vessel, that has been dedicated to the disentanglement attempt of this animal. Team members from FMRI, PCCS and NOAA-Fisheries are working on an action plan for an entanglement that grows in complexity as images and observations are analyzed. Satellite fixes from last night and early this morning put the whale about 60 miles east of the St. Johns River. A NOAA aerial survey team is headed out to the same coordinates to find the whale in advance of the shipboard crew. Images taken by the NOAA aerial survey team yesterday were of a very high quality and in very clear water and will be quite helpful to the formation of an action plan. 

    Update, 3/18/04: using the most recent satellite fixes and VHF, the NOAA-Fisheries aerial survey team sighted this whale, early in the afternoon and over forty miles offshore. Considering the distance needed for travel and the time of day the shipboard crew, working with the U.S. Coast Guard, has decided to delay the response until first-light tomorrow. 

    New England Aquarium scientists have not yet matched this whale to the catalog of known individuals but have identified it as a whale seen during an aerial survey on 1/30/04. At that time the whale was gear-free. 

    The whale will be tracked throughout the night as plans for the next attempt are finalized.

    An as yet unidentified right whale was found entangled offshore and south of St. Augustine, Florida, yesterday (3/17/04). The entanglement was confirmed and assessed by multiple aerial survey teams and sea crews.

    Disentanglement Network members from Florida Marine Resources Institute, PCCS, the New England Aquarium and NOAA-Fisheries successfully attached a telemetry tag to the entangling gear and the whale is currently being tracked for a disentanglement attempt. 

    diagram of known entanglement points

    Based upon size, the whale is likely a juvenile and appears to be in relatively good condition despite a particularly complicated entanglement. Despite good aerial documentation, the entanglement configuration remains unclear. At this point it is known that the whale has wraps of line just behind the blowholes and around the middle of the body, likely originating from the flippers and/or the mouth. A large wad of gear appears to be held tight against the underside of the whale and at least two ends of the line and a loop of line trail aft of the flukes. Considering the small size of the animal, this type of entanglement is considered particularly dangerous, as the animal continues to grow lines are likely to become embedded, leading to deep wounds and infection. 

    PCCS disentanglement team members from Provincetown are in Florida to meet up with teams from: the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the New England Aquarium, the Wildlife Trust, NOAA-Fisheries and the U.S. Coast Guard. Using aerial and shipboard support from these institutions, a disentanglement attempt will be mounted today, taking advantage of good weather that may last into tomorrow. Updates will be posted here. 

    click here to read about previous entanglements


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