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Scientists Successfully Sedate Entangled Right Whale – A Worldwide First!

On Friday, March 6, 2009, NOAA Fisheries Service and its Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Team partners successfully used sedation to assist a severely entangled North Atlantic right whale – one of five entangled right whales identified off the southeast United States this calving season. This is the first time in worldwide history a free-swimming large whale was successfully sedated in the wild according to experts at NOAA Fisheries Service and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The implications of this are far reaching as successful sedation can provide safer working conditions for humans and whales, and decrease the amount of time crews invest in pursuing and attempting to rescue entangled whales.

This whale was first sighted with entangling ropes off the Georgia coast by a Wildlife Trust aerial survey team on January 14, 2009.  A Georgia Department of Natural Resources crew responded immediately via boat to assess the whale’s condition, attach a tracking buoy, and remove 560 feet of trailing rope.  The whale was still severely entangled, so disentanglement teams attempted to assist this whale again on January 22 and 23, February 1, and March 5.  The animal proved to be very evasive making it difficult for the teams to approach the whale to cut the entangling ropes during these attempts.  After a sedation team successfully administered sedatives to the whale on March 6, the disentanglement team was able to safely approach the severely injured right whale to remove an additional 380 feet of rope. 

Disentanglement team and veterinarian partners included:

  • NOAA Fisheries Service
  • Georgia Department of Natural Resources
  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Coastwise Consulting, Inc.
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • University of Florida
  • Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies
  • New England Aquarium
  • Wildlife Trust
  • United States Coast Guard

For more information on this story, please contact:
Kim Amendola
Communication Specialist
NOAA Fisheries Service
Office: 727-551-5707
Cell: 727-403-6533
Email: kim.amendola@noaa.gov

Video Footage- Entangled Right Whale #3311:

Video 1- Cutting the Line Right Whale #3311 [AVI; 32MB]
Video 2- Sedative Dart #1 Right Whale #3311 [AVI; 45MB]
Video 3- Sedative Dart #2 Right Whale #3311 [AVI; 34MB]
Video 4- Grapple Throw Right Whale #3311 [AVI; 82MB]

Video credit: NOAA Fisheries Service

Photos- Entangled Right Whale #3311:

Photo 1
January 14, 2009 - Entangled Right whale, # 3311 at first sighting. Rope trailing behind whale is clearly visible.
Photo Credit: Wildlife Trust
Location: 18 miles east Brunswick, GA

Photo 2
January 14, 2009 - Rope is becoming embedded in the whales rostrum and mouth.
Photo Credit: Wildlife Trust
Location: 18 miles east of Brunswick, GA

Photo 3
January 18, 2009 - Buoy and entangling mass of rope is exiting left side of whale's mouth.
Photo Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Location: 85 miles east of Brunswick, GA

Photo 4
January 23, 2009 - Whale's condition during unsuccessful disentanglement attempt. Condition of whale is deteriorating, line is becoming more embedded.
Photo Credit: Wildlife Trust
Location: Off St. Augustine, FL

Photo 5
March 5, 2009 - Whales condition has deteriorated markedly. Rope is now deeply embedded.
Photo Credit: Wildlife Trust
Location: 12 miles off Daytona Beach, FL

Photo 6
March 6, 2009 - Last Sighting of whale #3311. The bitter end of rope that was cut is visible, and entangled mass of knotted rope is gone. Ninety percent of the rope has been removed.
Photo Credit: Wildlife Trust
Location: 20 miles NE of Cape Canaveral, FL

Photo 7
March 6, 2009 - Dart containing second dose of sedative has just been deployed. float designed to remove dart (by creating drag in water) is visible just off the vessel's port bow.
Photo Credit: Wildlife Trust
Location: 20 miles NE of Cape Canaveral, FL

Photo 8
March 6, 2009 - Disentanglement team cuts rope tightly wrapped over the whale's head. Cut releases ~ 150 feet of rope.
Photo Credit: Wildlife Trust
Location: 20 miles NE of Cape Canaveral, FL

Photo 9
March 6, 2009 - Approximately 230 feet of rope was just removed from the whale by the disentanglement team and the disentanglement team is floating around the rescue vessel.
Photo Credit: Wildlife Trust
Location: 20 miles NE of Cape Canaveral, FL

 


 




 

 

 

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