On Friday, March 6, 2009, for the first time ever, a North Atlantic right whale that had been severely entangled in fishing gear, was administered a sedation mixture that made it possible for rescuers to remove 90 percent of the entanglement.
The rescue involved the efforts of a multi-institutional team including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), NOAA Fisheries, which manages the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network based at the Provincetown (MA) Center for Coastal Studies, the University of Florida's Aquatic Animal Health Program, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Coastwise Consulting Group.
Team members on four boats assisted by an aerial survey plane worked for two days to free the animal. Eventually they succeeded in injecting the 40-foot, 40,000-pound whale with a mixture of sedatives that allowed them to cut away the gear that wrapped around the animal's head.
The new sedation delivery system built by Trevor Austin of Paxarms New Zealand, comprises a 12-inch needle and a syringe driven by compressed air, which injects the drug into the whale's muscle.
"This tool enhances fishing gear removal from entangled whales and minimizes the added stress from repeated boat approaches to the animals," said Michael Moore, a veterinarian and research biologist at WHOI. Moore has led the investigation into chemical and physical tools to facilitate and enhance the safety of large whale restraint during efforts to remove entangling fishing gear. "It's gratifying to have successfully employed this new technique."
North Atlantic right whales are frequently entangled in fixed fishing gear, especially from the trap and gillnet fisheries. Many of them eventually disentangle themselves, but some entanglements persist for months, at times resulting in a slow and presumably very painful death.
Whale avoidance of boats attempting
|Contact: Stephanie Murphy|
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution