Over the past few weeks scientists had been concerned about the North Atlantic right whale that was spotted with fishing ropes entangled to its body on the Florida coasts. Their efforts have been rewarded with at-sea chemical sedation helping the scientists to disentangle the whale.
Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries services helped cut about 50 feet of the rope from the whale by using at-sea chemical sedation on January 15 off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Because of the sedation, the disentanglement team got the precious time needed to safely approach the animal and remove the rope wrapped around its mouth and flippers. This is the second time that the at-sea sedation technique has been used to help an animal. The first time it was conducted on a whale distangled in March 2009 off the coast of Florida.
“Our recent progress with chemical sedation is important because it’s less stressful for the animal, and minimizes the amount of time spent working on these animals while maximizing the effectiveness of disentanglement operations,” said Jamison Smith, Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “This disentanglement was especially complex, but proved successful due to the detailed planning and collective expertise of the many response partners involved.”
On 30 December, we reported, the same whale was rescued by a team of trained responders from Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They were able to remove 150 feet of rope from the whale.
As the whale still had additional 50 feet of rope still attached to its body, the NOAA and other conservation groups continued to track its path via satellite and see if the animal could shed the remaining rope itself.
On January 15 when the weather conditions were suitable, the team decided to intervene and helped the trapped animal. What was novel about the effort was that this time the scientists used a unique digital monitoring tag that helped check the whale’s behavior before, during and after sedation. After disentangling the whale, scientists administered a dose of antibiotics to treat entanglement wounds and drug to reverse the sedation.
A sedation at sea is still in its nascent stage, scientists hope that the data collected would help similar procedures conducted in the future.
Fishing gear removed from this whale included ropes and wire mesh material, similar to what is found in the trap or pot fisheries for fish, crab and lobster along the mid-Atlantic, northeast U.S., and Canadian coasts. As the current population of these whales is very fragile with only 300-400 present in the seas, conservationists are always concerned for the safety of each whale who frequently get hit by vessels or entrapped in fishing gears.
The North Atlantic right Whales are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
With the collaborative effort of the NOAA, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Florida, EcoHealth Alliance, Coastwise Consulting, The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and the New England Aquarium one right whale was at least saved from the clutches of a painful and untimely death. – Atula, Staff Writer