The Right Whale named METOMPKIN:
Her Story of Survival

Disentanglement Team

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Chapter 6

Stormy Mayo & Ed LymanThe next day, on January 24, 1996 the weather improves enough for Charles "Stormy" Mayo and Ed Lyman from the Center for Coastal Studies, the New England Aquarium team, and experts from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to hit the waves again. They leave the dock onboard METOMPKIN soon after 7:00 a.m., setting a course for a general location 30 miles east of Charleston. Based on the whale's previous movements, this is a very good guess as to where she will be located. To help find the whale, a pilot is hired to assist in pinpointing her exact position. Marilyn Marx,a member of the research team, relocates #1707's radio signal from a Cessna 182 flying in 80 knots of wind. The team members on the Cutter METOMPKIN also listen to signals coming from #1707's radio tag.

The weather is getting worse. The seas swell 6 to 8 feet high, winds are gusting to 30 knots ( a 7 on the Beaufort Scale ), and it is overcast and raining. These are not good conditions to be disentangling a whale.

Rough SeasAround 11:30 - 12:00 Noon, Marilyn Marx in the Cessna spots #1707 and radios the location to METOMPKIN. High winds then force the plane's pilot to head back to Florida. Within 20 minutes of the call from the spotter plane the cutter is about 200 yards from the whale. She is finally spotted! #1707 is about 40 feet long, dark gray in color and swimming north in a straight line. She swims close to the surface, blasting water and mist from her blowholes every few minutes. Sometimes she arches her back and lifts her huge tail out of the water. Now the team must decide on the safest way to untangle her.

When they find #1707, still dragging her burden of ropes, she is off Bulls Bay, about 30 miles northeast of Charleston harbor. The wind is now howling and the dark gray seas hitting the ship with huge waves . But this may be the last chance to contact #1707.

A rain squall suddenly hits. The lobster pot buoys, part of the gear that entangles the whale, pop-up off the bow of the ship. Then the whale surfaces, the spray from her exhale blows flat across the rough seas. Based on sea conditions, the team decides that it is not safe to try to untangle #1707.Boom Instead they will try to attach a satellite-tracking tag on the lobster gear to track the whale on her northern migration. The team will try to untangle #1707 in calmer waters where she is not actively traveling. As the squall passes all aboard are cold and soaked by rain and waves coming into the boat, and yet the team begins to get the new tag ready. It is equipped with a satellite transmitter designed to send back signals for at least 2 months, as well as a radio transmitter that they hope will last that long too. The disentanglement team from the Center for Coastal Studies readies the gear they will need to cut the existing radio tag free.

The METOMPKIN prepares to launch an inflatable boat, but a driving rain squall blasts the ship with 35-knot gusts and 8- foot waves. They must delay the launch for 20 minutes.

At 1:07 p.m. the commanding officer of the METOMPKIN gives the order to lower the small boat with two scientists, Stormy Mayo and Chris Slay, plus their equipment. Because of the rough seas this is going to be difficult and maybe dangerous. The 13-foot boat is lowered by a boom from the 110-foot cutter. The scientists crawl over the side of the ship and then climb down a pilot's ladder into the inflatable.Sea Both get in safely, but the real challenge lies ahead as they have to catch up to #1707 (and she is much larger and more powerful than the 13-foot inflatable boat). The raft speeds to an orange buoy the whale is dragging. #1707 begins to swim in a wide circle. By 1:25 p.m., after jogging in high waves, the inflatable matches the whale's speed and it catches up with #1707's lobster pot buoy. They grab the line, unclip the old tag and cut off the float. Then they use a bowline knot to tie on a new yellow-and-white buoy. The new buoy contains the satellite transmitter and VHF radio transmitter specially designed and built by Chris Slay. The new custom-made satellite tracking device is attached to the trailing line of the fishing gear, and thrown overboard.

BoatThe weather did not cooperate for a disentanglement, but with the help of a team of people, this tagging was a success. Without the Coast Guard's assistance, the team would certainly never have reached #1707. To show appreciation for the Coast Guard's effort, the scientists name whale #1707 "METOMPKIN" after the Coast Guard Cutter and its crew who were so helpful!

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