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    Satellite Telemetry Plot of Entangled Right Whale

    Path of an entangled right whale off the Southeast coast of the United States from a satellite tracking buoy that is attached to entangling gear trailing from the animal.  The whale was tagged 20 miles off the coast of Georgia on December 3, 2005 as part of an extended, coordinated effort to disentangle it.  This map represents only the track between irregularly received position fixes from the satellite and does not represent the total movement of this animal.  Click on map to enlarge in new window.

    Monday, December 12, 2005  20:00

    As the afternoon progressed, the whale continued to travel north about 40 miles off the coast of North Carolina, closely followed by the Coast Guard Cutter Elm.  Late in the day the winds subsided and sea conditions improved enough for the teams to work with the whale for a short time before dark.

    Using a small aluminum Coast Guard vessel that is carried aboard the CGC Elm (the Elm II), some team members further documented the entanglement while other team members in an inflatable deployed a large balloon buoy and a drogue to the trailing line in an attempt to slow the whale and keep it at the surface.  This maneuver had the effect of changing the whale's behavior noticeably - it stayed at the surface, but was quite agitated.  The only rope available to use as a "control line" for the "kegging" operation was the trailing portion of the same rope that entangled the whale.  This line turned out to be unexpectedly weak and it parted under the added strain of the buoys and drogue.  Once this line parted, with no trailing buoys whatsoever, the whale became difficult to follow in the increasing darkness. 

    This line also had been the tether for the satellite/VHF telemetry tracking buoy.  Once gone, the whale was no longer being tracked electronically.

    Before leaving the whale, the team spent some time attempting to assess any change in the nature of the entanglement that may have occurred when the rope parted, however this assessment is not conclusive at this time.  The team was able to obtain a biopsy to aid with identification and health assessment.  It is believed that less than 20 feet of rope now trails behind the whale.  Nevertheless, disentanglement operations are effectively over for this whale at this time.  Future efforts will rely on an opportunistic first response by a well trained and equipped team.  In the meantime, it is hoped that the gear that remains on the whale may loosen and unwind as a result of the reduced strain and the free end that was created by the removal of a significant amount of rope and buoys (more than 300 feet since the whale was discovered on December 3).

    The CGC Elm will return to port early tomorrow.  The Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network extends its most grateful thanks.


    Monday, December 12, 2005  14:00

    Based on telemetry projections updated throughout the night, the entangled right whale likely passed within a mile east of the Diamond Shoals Light, 15 miles off Cape Hatteras, at around 08:00 this morning.  The CGC Elm, which had been steaming to catch up with the whale overnight, was given a new satellite fix for the whale at 05:25 and headed for a projected 09:00 position based on the whale continuing north along the coast after rounding Diamond Shoals.

    The Wildlife Trust/GaDNR/NOAA Twin Otter aircraft took off from Morehead City, NC at 07:15 with a projected position for the whale.  At 09:00 the plane began receiving a strong signal from the VHF beacon carried aboard the telemetry buoy.  However, the signal was irregular and infrequent, and observers did not see the whale until 10:00.  The Elm was on scene shortly afterward.  At that point the whale was approximately 20 NM offshore from Cape Hatteras and was traveling at more than five knot knots northeasterly - quickly and steadily moving even farther offshore.  As had been observed from the telemetry data, the whale was spending very little time at the surface, less than 20 percent, which made maintaining visual contact with the whale and tracking the VHF beacon very difficult.

    A small boat was launched from the Elm for observation and to attempt to obtain a biopsy, but steep seas combined with the whale's rapid travel and very long dive times (20+ minutes) made this first small boat effort unsuccessful.

    By 11:30, when the Twin Otter had to return for fuel, the whale was lost.  The Twin Otter will return to the scene after refueling.


    Tracking this whale electronically is challenging due to surface times that are typically too short to calculate a position and which cause the intermittent (mostly off) signal from the VHF.  However, the Elm is continuing to dead reckon the path of the whale and has once again picked up the VHF signal from the tag.  No useful data has been received from the satellite since 05:25.

    Monday, December 12, 2005  00:30

    During the past two days of high seas and winds, the entangled right whale has maintained an apparently steady pace on its travels northeast.  Previous hopes that the whale might slow in Onslow Bay, North Carolina did not come to pass and the whale rounded Cape Lookout at around noon.

    In the most recent forecasts, the weather outlook has deteriorated for the early part of the week and it is currently anticipated that today may provide the only opportunity for a team to reach the whale in workable conditions this week.

    The US Coast Guard Cutter Elm just departed from Atlantic Beach, North Carolina at midnight to attempt to rendezvous with the entangled right whale before it rounds Cape Hatteras, which is anticipated later today.  

    In addition to the vessel's crew, an eight member disentanglement team is aboard for the overnight trip:
    David Morin and Scott Landry, PCCS
    Mac Greene, PCCS and Campobello New Brunswick Whale Rescue Team
    Jamison Smith and Barb Zoodsma, NOAA Fisheries Service
    Mark Dodd and Clay George, Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources (GaDNR)
    Tom Pitchford, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)

    If all goes as planned, the ship and a Wildlife Trust/GaDNR/NOAA Twin Otter survey aircraft will be directed to the whale by track predictions based on trends from satellite fixes calculated overnight.  The whale is being tracked by Bob Bowman, PCCS, in Maine.

    Sunday, December 11, 2005

    Accurately tracking the entangled right whale continues to be hindered by the few and low-quality fixes that result from very low surface intervals from the telemetry buoy.  After a period of nearly 40 hours without a new location from the tag, a fix has been plotted as of 03:44 this morning.  This position, 50 NM south of Cape Lookout, while not precise, indicates that the whale continues to travel steadily to the northeast in a general line and rate in keeping with the projections from the past two days.

    Disentanglement teams and equipment from the Southeast US, New England and Canada are currently in route to Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.  The 225 foot US Coast Guard Cutter Elm will be the base of operations beginning tonight, and, if necessary, continuing for the next few days.

    Saturday, December 10, 2005

    Despite another night of high winds and seas which hampered location calculations, satellite telemetry late yesterday indicates that the whale continued traveling northeasterly.  Based on recent trends, it is most plausible that the whale is currently rounding Cape Fear, North Carolina.

    It is anticipated that satellite telemetry will improve with calmer sea conditions predicted during the next few days.  However, because the whale may change its path at any time, its location during the next workable weather window may not be known until perhaps a few hours in advance.  Therefore, dozens of Network partners from Florida to Canada are preparing logistical plans for personnel, vessels and equipment from several potential staging areas along the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic coast.

    Friday, December 9, 2005
    A high quality satellite fix of the whale last night confirms our interpretation of the rather poor data received during the past two days. At 22:33 last night the whale was 25 nautical miles east of Cape Romain, South Carolina, still apparently traveling northeast. Continued high seas and wind in this area will prevent another attempt to disentangle the whale before Monday, Dec. 12, when it begins to look more promising for a possible two-day weather window.

    Thursday, December 8, 2005
    Winds are 30 knots and seas are 7 feet every 6 seconds in the vicinity of the whale off the coast of South Carolina. Data continued to be received from the telemetry buoy overnight, but are of poor technical quality due to inadequate surface times, and are not useable for plotting a new position.

    Wednesday, December 7, 2005
    Satellite transmissions from the tag have been sporadic and of poor technical quality for the past day and a half due to short surface intervals likely resulting from a combination of very steep seas and the swimming behavior of the whale.


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