Endangered Right Whale Freed from Yards of Fishing Gear off Georgia Coast [VIDEO]

First Posted: Feb 21, 2014 04:12 AM EST

An endangered North Atlantic right whale was freed from yards of heavy fishing rope that it was entangled in and dragging off the Georgia Coast, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The four-year-old male right whale was spotted Sunday off Jacksonville, Fla., during an aerial survey. The survey was conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina Wilmington for the U.S. Navy. The crew spotted the whale dragging yards of fishing gear behind it.

They immediately called the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for a rescue operation. The entire disentanglement process was overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On Monday, the rescue operations took place when the whale was just 40 miles off shore of Georgia's Wolf Island. The crew, responding by boat, cut away most of the entangled fishing rope and hoped to track the whale the next day through the attached satellite tracking buoy

"Coordination between research teams is essential during these types of events," said Katie Jackson, a FWC wildlife biologist, in a statement. "Because the whale was found late in the day, we had a narrow window of time to assess the whale's condition and its entanglement and decide on a course of action."

The four-year-old male whale is one of the 450 North Atlantic right whales surviving in the wild. In order to free the right whale from thick ropes wrapped around the fish's massive body, the crew used a device called the cutting grapple. On throwing the device across the trailing rope, the rope parted easily. The officials announced that they removed over 280 feet of commercial fishing gear.

The first day the crew didn't manage to free the right whale entirely as it had some portion of the ropes entangled in its baleen- the feeding structure inside the mouth.

The rescued whale is titled as No. 4057. The officials are not sure about the source of the ropes. The crew members hope that the whale No. 4057 sheds the rest of the entangled rope on its own. The fate of the whale is unknown, unless the crew spots him again. The rescue team spotted injuries on the whale's head and flukes.

"It's not known where the rope came from or the specific type of fishing it had been used for. Judging from its wounds, I suspect this whale had been hauling that rope for weeks or longer," George said. "It's impossible to know if he'll survive, but at least we gave him a fighting chance."

One of the major leading causes of death and injury for the North Atlantic right whales is entanglement in commercial fishing gear and due to this it is listed as an endangered species by the IUCN and also is marked as the world's most imperiled whale.

"Disentanglement can't save every whale," George said. "The focus must be on prevention."

Due to rope entanglements, more than 80 percent of the right whales carry scars and 60 percent of them have suffered entanglement at least twice.


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