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March 12, 2009

Cetacean Sedation

After nearly two months of entanglement in commercial fishing gear off the Southeast coast, a North Atlantic right whale was finally freed of 380 feet of rope after a rescue crew sedated the animal. It’s the first time a large whale has been sedated in the wild. Of the estimated 400 North Atlantic right whales remaining in the wild, five have been entangled off the Southeast this calving season.According to ScienceDaily, “North Atlantic right whales are frequently entangled in fixed fishing gear, especially from the trap and gillnet fisheries. Many of them eventually disentangle themselves, but some entanglements persist for months, at times resulting in a slow and presumably very painful death.”The National Marine Fisheries Service issued an optimistic statement about the implications of the episode: “Successful sedation can provide safer working conditions for humans and whales, and decrease the amount of time crews invest in pursuing and attempting to rescue entangled whales.” While improved sedation techniques are certainly a step forward, let’s hope they are also considering ways to prevent whale bycatch from happening in the future.