NOAA 2001-095
Contact: Teri Frady


The National Marine Fisheries Service, an agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, today announced that the satellite telemetry signal from a buoy attached to North Atlantic right whale #1102, dubbed "Churchill," has stopped. Researchers say this may mean that the whale has died.

The last signal was received Sunday, Sept. 16 in the early afternoon, from a point approximately 250 miles south of Nantucket Island and 460 miles east of Cape May, N.J., in an area of very deep water. Loss of the signal could mean that the instruments have been damaged or have malfunctioned, that the buoy has been damaged, or that the apparatus is underwater.

First spotted entangled off Cape Cod, Mass., on June 8, #1102 logged more than 4,000 miles over 100 days before the signal was lost. His travels, and multiple attempts to free him from the line, were international news during mid-summer. The rescue team drew on experts from a dozen institutions including state and federal agencies, private laboratories and aquaria, universities, and private companies.

Lead veterinarian Teri Rowles, chief of NOAA fisheries' Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, which organized the rescue response said, "There are some superlatives that should be emphasized, despite the potential loss of this whale."

"This event provided the longest uninterrupted information on the travels of an adult male from this population," Rowles said. "Thanks to the efforts of an unprecedented team of experts, we were able to successfully deliver medication to a free-swimming large whale in the open ocean and were able to achieve measurable sedation that did not endanger the animal. These are notable accomplishments that will allow us to help other ailing and injured large whales in the future."

Since June 8, observers have documented the decline of the whale due to a serious wound across its upper jaw caused by synthetic marine line that cut deeply into the tissue. In six rescue attempts, experts saw the whale go from mottled gray to ghostly white, and from robust to an emaciated body condition as he meandered a course that stretched from the Gulf of Maine, into Canadian waters along the southeasterly edge of Nova Scotia, around Cape Breton, into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, southerly across the Scotian shelf, back into U.S. waters, and eventually into the feeding grounds off Cape Cod. When last seen from a U.S. Coast Guard Falcon jet during Labor Day weekend, the whale looked pale pink, indicating extensive coverage of skin parasites and disease.

Researchers are still planning to attempt to recover the carcass if possible, to finally resolve the exact nature of the entanglement and to retain and reserve the skeleton for study. If #1102 is still alive and re-sighted, rescuers are available to attempt further treatment or disentanglement.

In this cooperative effort, many partners shared their commitment and expertise in the treatment and disentanglement efforts of #1102 including the Center for Coastal Studies, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, NOAA's National Weather Service, the University of Wisconsin College of Veterinary Medicine, the Marine Mammal Center (Sausalito, Ca.), Sea World (Orlando, Fla.), and Mystic Aquarium (Mystic, Conn.) At-sea safety support was provided by the U.S. Coast Guard.

NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation's living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.

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