NOAA and Partners Free
Entangled Right Whale

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries Service and state and nonprofit partners successfully used at-sea chemical sedation to help cut the remaining ropes from an entangled young North Atlantic right whale off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Fla., on January 15. The use of the sedative allowed the disentanglement team to safely approach the whale and remove 50 feet of rope that was wrapped through its mouth and around its flippers. This is only the second time a free-swimming whale has been successfully sedated to enable disentanglement efforts.


Our window into the world of travels for the recently disentangled young female North Atlantic right whale has come to a close.

The small satellite tag that was attached to the skin of the whale’s back has stopped transmitting. The small tag is a marvel in satellite technology  -- and this was the first time one had been deployed on a North Atlantic right whale. These tags are typically deployed on smaller cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and are only designed to stay attached and transmit for approximately 30 days.

NOAA and its partner researchers decided to use this new type of satellite transmitter to effectively determine if the use of chemical sedatives would have an immediate (1-2 day) adverse effect on the whale once everyone had left the animal and went back to shore. The tag was able to tell us exactly that. The animal continued to swim about and explore the east coast of Florida, and had appeared to start traveling back north when the satellite tag stopped transmitting.

This abrupt stop to satellite transmissions was thought to be due to the tag having detached from the whale. Researchers consulting with NOAA on the project estimated that the tag would only stay attached to a North Atlantic right whale from two to five days because of their smooth skin and thick blubber layer.

NOAA and it research partners conduct daily, weather-dependent aerial surveys off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina searching for right whales and their calves. It is likely that if the freed whale stays in the area, it might be spotted by these research teams.

The project was considered a complete success because we were able to answer our immediate question and peer into the secret lives of whales -- something that would not have been possible without the help of numerous partners and organizations.

Freed whale's path (as of Jan. 23, 2011):

Download here. (Source: NOAA/NMFS)


Watch this short video of the disentanglement team freeing the whale:                                     

Right whale disentanglement video screen shot.

VIDEO: Watch a scientist from NOAA's response agency partner (Georgia Department of Natural Resources) use a long pole with attached knife and buoy to help cut the remaining ropes from a young sedated North Atlantic right whale on January 15 off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Download video here. (Credit: With permission from Georgia Department of Natural Resources)

Apple QuickTime or other player capable of playing an "MOV" file required. QuickTime may be downloaded free.

To learn more about North Atlantic right whales, visit the NOAA Marine Fisheries Service website.

Posted Jan. 18, 2011 NOAA logo.