Contact: Susan Buchanan
NOAA News Releases 2005
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U.S Coast Guard Joins Rescue Efforts; Inclement Weather Currently Keeping Team in Port

NOAA Fisheries Service will lead a team of federal, state, and non-profit biologists and scientists to rescue an entangled North Atlantic right whale that is currently off the coast of Florida. Severe weather and ocean conditions are keeping the team temporarily in port, however, the group is currently tracking the whale using the telemetry buoy they attached Saturday to the 75 feet of rope and fishing gear entangling the whale. The species is the most critically endangered in the Atlantic with only about 300 in existence.

The entangled whale was first spotted Saturday morning off the Georgia coast during a routine aerial survey conducted by Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife Trust. These aerial surveys are conducted seasonally as part of a formal recovery plan designed to conserve North Atlantic right whales. The aerial survey team alerted NOAA Fisheries Service biologists who immediately assembled a response team.

The team is comprised of experts from NOAA Fisheries Service, United States Coast Guard, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, and Wildlife Trust. NOAA Fisheries Service and the response team deployed Saturday from Brunswick, Ga. to assess the whale’s condition and shorten the trailing gear.

“We’ve tracked the whale’s movement since Saturday and it continues to head south, which is typical behavior for right whales at this time of year,” said Barb Zoodsma, a marine mammal biologist and right whale recovery program coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Service Southeast. According to Zoodsma, many right whales travel south during the winter to calving and nursery areas, and spend summers feeding off the coasts of New England and Canada.

Zoodsma said that disentangling a right whale takes a great deal of planning, expertise, and coordination among agencies. Because of the speed of the whale and distances they travel, it sometimes takes days or even weeks under ideal weather and ocean conditions to safely and successfully free the entangled animal.

“We had just completed an intensive on the water disentanglement training session the day before we spotted the entangled whale,” said Clay George, biologist at Georgia DNR. “We were able to shorten the trailing line as well as attach a satellite buoy so that we would be able to relocate the whale for further disentangle efforts.”

The United States Coast Guard and a crew aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Kingfisher, from Mayport, Fla., are also part of the rescue team. The Kingfisher will act as a platform to perform the disentanglement, provide a hub for offshore communications with NOAA Fisheries Service crews on land, and offer logistical and safety support for the team while offshore.

“As one of the federal stewards to the marine environment, the Coast Guard has a long history of assisting NOAA Fisheries Service in protecting marine mammals and preserving the nation's valuable natural marine resources,” said Lt. j.g. Matt Baker, commanding officer of the Kingfisher. “My crew and I are proud to be part of this operation.”

The North Atlantic right whale is most endangered off American coasts. After a period of intense whaling in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the right whale was on the brink of extinction. Although whaling practices have ceased, right whales face serious risks from ship collisions and entanglements in fishing gear and marine debris. The North Atlantic right whale population is now estimated at approximately 300 animals and is listed as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973. Right whales and all other species of marine mammals are protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

NOAA Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources and their habitats through scientific research, management and enforcement. NOAA Fisheries Service provides effective stewardship of these resources for the benefit of the nation, supporting coastal communities that depend upon them, and helping to provide safe and healthy seafood to consumers and recreational opportunities for the American public.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and nearly 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

Media Note: B-roll (VHS format) and digital still photos (CD format) from Monday’s rescue attempts is available through the U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs Office and this link:

On the Web:

NOAA Fisheries Service: