Rescuers Fail to Free Entangled Whale off U.S. Coast

June 27, 2001

A team of marine scientists ventured into the Atlantic waters off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on Tuesday but failed in their efforts to rescue a right whale that has been entangled in a rope for more than two weeks.

The whale appeared to be ill from wounds that became infected as the rope dug into its skin. Many people are concerned that if the whale isn't freed, it could die.

The scientists were not successful in their two attempts to sedate the 50-foot (15-meter), 50-ton (50,800-kilogram) whale with tranquilizers like those used in treating rhinos or elephants so that members of the rescue team could remove the rope. The rope was loosened somewhat, but is still embedded in the whale's upper jaw.

The operation was halted for the time being and it was not clear whether the rescue effort would resume.

"For the short term, they're done," Teri Frady, a spokesperson for the National Marine Fisheries Service, told the Associated Press early Wednesday morning. "The thinking is the same group will look at the data they got today, and we will hopefully be able to improve on it for next time."

The scientists from the Center for Coastal Studies, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the New England Aquarium have been working for the past two weeks to devise a strategy to rescue the animal, known as Right Whale No. 1102. Earlier rescue plans were thwarted by bad weather and rough seas.

Trapped But "Tenacious"

The whale, an adult male, was first discovered on June 8 when an aerial survey team from the National Marine Fisheries Service flew over Cultivator's Shoal, nearly 100 miles from Cape Cod.

The survey team said the entangled whale stood out among a group of right whales feeding in the area because its black body had light-colored spots caused by parasites on the skin and a light green plastic rope, apparently a fishing line, was streaming from its mouth.

Senior scientist Stormy Mayo of the Center for Coastal Studies has viewed the whale up close. "It appears at some point while the whale was feeding, it ran into this rope…at some point this plastic rope was put under tremendous strain and cut deeply into the snout and is now embedded."

The greatest danger to the whale at this time is not drowning, he noted, but death from a massive infection.

But Mayo is cautiously optimistic. 1102 is a tough whale, it's tenacious, he said. Mayo and the other scientists hope the whale will show a hardiness characteristic of the moniker bestowed on it by the marine science team: Churchill.

Continued on Next Page >>




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