Update 5/14/07 - this whale has been confirmed
as gear-free. The right whale aerial survey team
recently found a sighting of this whale from April 27,
2007, off the coast of Wellfleet, MA. Images from the
sighting show that the once obvious gear is now gone.
(Provincetown, Cape Cod, MA) - A team of experts from the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network,
and NOAA Fisheries, worked yesterday off the coast of North Carolina to remove rope from the
Images taken under NMFS right whale
permit number 932-1489.
mouth of a rare North Atlantic right whale.
The team caught up to the whale yesterday only five miles off the beach in Onslow Bay, southwest of Beaufort.
The whale was entangled through its mouth by a rope approximately 150 feet long and covered with numerous corroded fishing hooks. Whale experts working on this case generally agreed that the entanglement was unlikely to be life-threatening in the short-term. By removing the gear, if possible, the risk of long-term problems would be reduced.
The juvenile whale, estimated to be 35 feet long, was first reported in Canada’s Bay of Fundy on September 27 by researchers from the New England Aquarium, however, it is unknown when or where the whale became entangled. It was sighted again the following day in the same area.
This right whale was not seen until January 15, nearly four months later, during a survey flight to monitor right whales on the winter calving grounds off the coast of Georgia. That day, a Network first response team from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources attached a tracking buoy to the rope trailing from the whale. This is a standard practice to allow disentanglement teams to revisit the whale with necessary equipment when weather conditions allow.
A short weather window the next day allowed teams from Georgia DNR and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission along with a NOAA Fisheries Service representative, to get better documentation. In the days that followed the whale was tracked via satellite telemetry as it swam more than 400 miles north. A series of storms prevented the teams from reaching the whale until yesterday.
During the efforts, the team used large buoys and a large drogue (sea-anchor) to attempt to keep the whale at the surface long enough to allow them to cut the ropes on its head using a special knife on a long pole. However, the whale continued to swim away from them, nearly always just beneath the surface and out of reach. Finally, at the end of the day, before losing too much daylight, it was decided to simply remove as much gear as possible. The team successfully cut the trailing line forward of the whale’s flukes. While the line remains in the whale’s mouth, the risk of further complications caused by the long trailing rope is gone. The telemetry buoy was also removed.
Scott Landry of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS) led the effort. He was joined by Brian Sharp, also of PCCS, Jeff Thompson of the Virginia Aquarium, and disentanglement team members from NOAA Fisheries, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, which also assisted with an aircraft. Operations were based from two vessels from the NOAA-Fisheries laboratory in Beaufort, North Carolina.
Entanglements are one of the leading known causes of mortality for the critically endangered right whale. Approximately 350 of these whales are estimated to exist and more than three-quarters of all living North Atlantic Right whales bear the scars of previous entanglements.
All federally authorized large whale disentanglement activities along the Atlantic coast of the United States are conducted by the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network, a program of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies operating under contract with NOAA Fisheries Service and permitted under the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts. The Network is a largely volunteer effort dependent on the dedication of its members; fishermen, scientists and government agencies alike. Twenty highly-trained, volunteer First Response teams are established in strategic sites along the Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada. These teams are supported by more than six hundred professional mariners and biologists, including more than four hundred commercial fishermen, who have participated in entanglement response training at dozens of seminars since 1997 from Quebec to Florida.
To report an entangled whale, call the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Hotline – 1-800-900-3622 or call the Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16.
The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies was founded in 1976 and is dedicated to researching and protecting marine mammals and marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Maine, through applied research, conservation, environmental and education programs. Its world-renowned whale disentanglement team operates under a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service
click here for a list of previous entanglements
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Office: 508.487.3622 ext. 103
Director, Marine Mammal Disentanglement Program
508.487.3623 ext. 103