The Right Whale named METOMPKIN:
Her Story of Survival

Right Whale

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Chapter One

January 1, 1996

Lobster Gear A huge whale is having trouble in the waters off the coast of Florida. Scientists from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FL-DEP) sight a 35-ton (70,000 pound) "right" whale about 20 miles northeast of Jacksonville. Because of the individual markings on its head, they recognize this whale as one that has been studied, and given the catalog number #1707. She is a 9-year old female, born in 1987. Her mother is named "Mavynne" (catalog number #1151) and Mavynne was six years old when this young female was born. Right whale #1707 has been seen by scientists every year since her birth, almost always in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada with a few sightings along the southeastern United States coastline.

Unfortunately she is now tangled in rope and a set of lobster buoys are trailing behind her.

Right whale #1707 is a very important whale. She is one of perhaps only 300 right whales left in the Northwest Atlantic, and a young female at just the right age to have her first baby. This whale could not be more valuable. Her survival is extremely important to the survival of all endangered right whales.

Question - [Why is her rescue so critical?]

January 6, 1996

Scientist Marilyn Marx of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection spots this whale from an airplane during a daily survey (fly-over) off the coast of Florida andSpotting PLane Georgia. Fly-overs or surveys give scientists an opportunity to make observations, from an airplane, of a study area, and gives them insights as to how many whales are in the area and where they are.

She sees the trailing ropes and gear and knows there is trouble. Dragging all that gear can tire a whale. The ropes could cut through her skin and she could become infected.

A desperate plan is made to rescue one of the world's rarest animals. If a rescue is not possible, scientists hope to "tag" #1707 with a radio tracking device so that she can be found again and hopefully free her from the entanglement at a later time.

January 15 1996

Nearly two weeks later #1707 is sighted by the New England Aquarium's (NEA) airplane survey crew about 10 miles south of where she had been on January 6. Scott Kraus, chief scientist, and Chris Slay, satellite tagging expert, set out to free her from the lobster gear that entangles her. Quickly they climb aboard a local fishing boat and tow an inflatable raft to the area where the plane crew saw her. When they finally spot the whale they jump into their 13-foot inflatable raft (Zodiac) and find the two lobster-pot buoys which are streaking through the water behind her.Line They can tell from the markings on the buoys that she probably had first become entangled in New England waters, and has dragged the ropes and gear all the way to Florida!

Question - [About how many miles has she been towing this fishing gear?]

As the scientists proceed along side the whale, they see that she has a tight wrap of rope (about 3/8 inch wide) around her entire body, and the line around her mid-section is beginning to cut through the skin. Another 300 feet of line is dragging behind her.

Question - [How much do you think 300 feet of rope in water weighs?]

The weather is so bad, with strong winds and high waves that it is too difficult to cut all the rope off.

Question - [What are some of the problems you as a scientist would have in a small raft, trying to get near a huge whale when the sea is rough?]

Fortunately there are no signs of entanglement through the mouth or around the tail flukes. The researchers snatch the trailing line from the water and quickly cut about 150 feet of rope free from the whale. To the remaining line they attach a VHF(very high frequency) radio transmitter tag. The problem is that the Georgia Department of Natural resources (GA-DNR) had originally designed this tag for tracking manatees. Since it was not made for large whales and is not capable of withstanding the deeper dives that whales can make, it is to be used as a temporary way of tracking the tangled right whale, #1707.

Question - [How would a large whale radio tag be different?]
Question - [Why do large whales always swim near the surface like manatees?]

Up until now, keeping track of the movements of whales and other marine mammals has been difficult because it involves people actually following them in boats or watching from shore. Now there are some exciting technologies being developed which allow scientists to track these animals using radio and satellite signals.

With this tag scientists will be able to "see" where entangled #1707 swims!

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