Image: Crews approach entangled whale
Wildlife Trust
Crews approach an entangled right whale during one of the attempts to free it from hundreds of feet of rope.
updated 3/11/2009 11:32:36 AM ET 2009-03-11T15:32:36

Scientists used sedatives to calm and then free a North Atlantic right whale entangled in rope off Florida's Atlantic Coast — the first time a large whale was ever sedated in the wild, according to the federal fisheries agency.

This whale was first spotted entangled in ropes off Georgia on Jan. 14, the National Marine Fisheries Service said in a statement. Georgia officials took a boat out to remove 560 feet of trailing rope and attach a tracking buoy, and teams made four more attempts over the next six weeks to remove the remaining rope, which appeared to be from commercial fishing operations.

"The animal proved to be very evasive, making it difficult for the teams to approach the whale to cut the entangling ropes," the agency stated.

That's when officials decided to try to sedate the whale, which by then was near Ponce Inlet, south of Daytona Beach, Fla.

"After a sedation team successfully administered sedatives to the whale on March 6, the disentanglement team was able to safely approach the severely injured right whale to remove an additional 380 feet of rope," the agency said.

The agency said its experts and those at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution confirmed it was "the first time in worldwide history a free-swimming large whale was successfully sedated in the wild."

"The implications of this are far reaching as 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," the agency stated.

The animal was one of five entangled right whales identified off the southeast this calving season. North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered species in the world, with an estimated 400 remaining.

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