Whale Rescuers Sedate an Entangled Right Whale for the First Time Ever
Choppy seas. A small boat. And 40 tons of frightened, uncooperative whale. These are the ingredients for every attempt to rescue an entangled right whale from the fishing gear that binds it. When you consider these obstacles, it’s no wonder many disentanglement efforts fail. After all, how do you get 40 tons of whale to hold still while you carefully cut away a mess of rope or net?
Before March 6, rescuers could only hope for a lucky break or a tired whale. But, now, they’ve got a better option—sedation. On Friday, March 6, NOAA Fisheries Service and its Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Team partners successfully sedated an entangled right whale, for the first time ever. The sedation was a success, and rescuers were able to cut away 380 feet of rope that had been wrapped around the animal’s upper jaw. In total, they removed approximately 90% of the entanglement.
This particular whale is in pretty poor shape and rescuers don’t know if it will survive. Still, while rescuers are concerned about this whale, they are (deservedly) ecstatic about the successful use of a sedative. Michael Moore, a veterinarian and whale biologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, says the use of sedatives is “an exciting new tool in the large whale disentanglement toolbox.” He’s right—sedated whales will be calmer and rescuers will be able to remove entangling ropes and nets more easily. This new technique could save many critically endangered right whales from near certain death.
Now, if we could only figure out how to prevent them from becoming entangled in the first place.