Saving the North Atlantic Right Whale - North AmericaDon't fail our whale
An innovative system to administer antibiotics to a severely injured right whale calf has been used for the first time
(Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts - 24 January 2020) On January 15, after persistent efforts to re-sight the severely injured right whale calf and its mother known to researchers as "Derecha" - Spanish for "right" - on the Southeast coast of the US, a multi-agency team of expert marine biologists and veterinarians, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) was able to successfully administer antibiotics remotely to the calf.
While the calf's prognosis was determined to be poor, the consulted experts, responding veterinarians, and representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) decided to move ahead with the extraordinary effort to administer long-acting antibiotics remotely to stave off potential lethal infection caused by visible injuries consistent with a propeller strike. This is the first time since the darting system was developed that this custom-made, remote drug-delivery device has been used on a right whale calf.
Kathryn Rose, Research Coordinator for IFAW Marine Mammals Rescue & Research and specialist on the remote delivery system, was part of the response team. "After two years of learning the system, and practicing deployments, it was truly rewarding to be able to successfully administer the needed medication."
The system was originally developed by NOAA, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the Center for Coastal Studies over twelve years ago and was used in two right and two humpback whale cases. The last opportunity for its use was in 2011. Seeing a critical need for the system to be maintained and ready for use, IFAW sought and received federal grant funds in 2017 as part of the Prescott Grant Program administered by NOAA to re operationalize the system for large whale sedation, antibiotic, and other drug administration. IFAW, working with WHOI, was uniquely suited for this operation due to the team's combination of veterinary and large whale expertise.
"This custom-built system is crucial to provide potentially life-saving treatments to injured whales, especially in cases where humans have inflicted the injuries, such as with this vessel struck calf. The system can also be used to temporarily sedate entangled whales to facilitate their disentanglement, particularly in complex cases that are unable to be resolved with traditional disentanglement techniques. Large whale sedation also has the added benefit of making responses safer for the human rescue teams involved in such operations." commented Dr. Sarah Sharp, IFAW Animal Rescue Veterinarian and lead author of a 2019 study revealing vessel strikes and entanglements as major causes of mortalities in the North Atlantic right whale population.
To date, only three other newly born right whales calves have been observed in addition to this injured calf in the 2019-2020 calving season. In an estimated population of approximately 409 North Atlantic right whales including less than 90 breeding females, the loss of even one individual is a devastating event pushing this species towards the brink of extinction. IFAW collaborates with governments, non-governmental agencies, scientists, fishermen, and other critical stakeholders to take innovative actions, like advocating for ropeless fishing gear technology and early warning notice systems for vessels that will protect right whales and preserve their habitat.
IFAW US: Rodger Correa Tel: +1 202 5361926
IFAW Canada: Aurore Lepastourel Tel: +1 343 549 2249
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW ) is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans, and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate, and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we're up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organizations, and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish. See how at www.ifaw.org
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