UPDATE: Whale confirmed to be endangered right whale

By Gian Louis Thompson and Caroline Young | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Original story:“Truck-sized whale washes up on Crescent Beach”

A 2-year-old dead female North Atlantic right whale was towed ashore at 7:30 to 8:00 last night at the Mary Street vehicle access ramp on Crescent Beach. A necropsy conducted by a partnership of wildlife officials began around 7:30 this morning.

The team of biologists, scientists, and veterinarians prepare to conduct the necropsy.

The whale was first observed on Christmas day entangled off the coast. On January 15, A response team of state and federal partners conducted a successful sedation and partial disentanglement of the whale. This was only the second time a large free-swimming whale was sedated at sea, according to Karrie Carnes, communications coordinator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA).

The whale was monitored with a satellite buoy by researchers since its discovery. Then, on Feb. 1, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) aerial survey team noticed it was dead, according to Carnes.

A backhoe operator, Ray Crisp, from Sim’s Trucking in St. Augustine towed the 30-feet long, 15,000-pound whale ashore by its tail with a rope.

The backhoe used to tow the whale ashore.

Crisp said the towing effort failed a couple of times when the line used to tow the whale snapped. Eventually, a thicker rope was brought in. Crisp said he is not used to this type of job.

“I usually take boats off the beach and put them back in the water,” Crisp said. “This is the first time we took something out of the water and put it in on the beach.”

The North Atlantic right whale is protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The whale was deemed terminally entangled after more than one rescue attempt by wildlife officials. They managed to remove at least 50 feet of rope, according to Carnes. She said the team discovered the rope lodged in the whale’s mouth and wrapped around its pectoral fins.

Scientists measure one of the whale's pectoral fins.

“Since it was such a severe entanglement it is likely that it was the entanglement that caused it and any potential secondary infections from that,” Carnes said.

Although Carnes said it is unlikely, another possible cause of death is the sedative used by the response team on the whale.

“[The sedative] is likened to Valuum for whales,” Carnes said. “It makes it a little less anxious around boats so they [officials] could get close enough to remove additional line.”

Carnes said the right whale spends a lot of time at the surface, is dark, and has no dorsal fin, making it difficult to spot in the water. Thus, a ship-strike could be another possible cause of death, she said.

North Atlantic right whales feed in Canada’s Bay of Fundy and in New England waters, and migrate as far south as here in northeast Florida. There is a significant increase between October and April, causing these situations to happen a “handful” of times every year, Carnes said.

The rope which ensnared the whale can be seen in its mouth.

Carnes said there are rules being put into place for removal of fishermen’s abandoned gear to prevent these occurrences from happening. A team of investigators from NOAA, FWC, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources are conducting the necropsy and planning to thoroughly investigate the gear removed from the animal to verify the type of rope or fishery trap that ensnared the whale, she said.

“It’s a tragedy,” Basil Gribbon, a chemist and environmentalist, said as he watched the scientists studying the whale corpse. “[Four hundred eleven] was the last count of the Atlantic right whale,” he said. Gribbon followed the entangled whale’s progress over the past several weeks.

“The take home message,” Carnes said. “Is this didn’t have to happen.”

Officials from NOAA, FWC, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources are conducting the necropsy.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Be the first to comment on "UPDATE: Whale confirmed to be endangered right whale"

Leave a comment