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S.C. Rescue: A Whale Of A Task

A team of scientists trying to save an endangered right whale entangled in a web of fishing gear and buoys had to turn around Wednesday because of rough seas.

The Coast Guard cutter Yellowfin reached the 34-foot whale off the coast of the Carolinas, but scientists were only able to take a biopsy to evaluate the mammal's stress level.

The waters were too choppy to try a disentanglement operation, said Laura Engleby, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service. It was unclear when researchers would try to free the whale again.

"Weather is going to be a primary factor on when they do it. It's breezy here," she said.

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Earlier Wednesday, the cutter left from Georgetown with a crew of 10 and about 15 scientists, including researchers from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass.

An airplane from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also was used to locate the whale.

The endangered North Atlantic right whale named Kingfisher is tangled in a fishing net and there are fears he may not survive if rescuers can't get that fishing net off.

An attempt to free the whale near Jacksonville, Fla., last Friday was unsuccessful. But, rescuers managed to attach a tracking device, which has led them up the coast.

"On Friday, actually, the team was successful at removing some of the lines," said Laura Engleby, a marine mammal biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, which is leading the effort.

"However, the whale remains severely entangled still," she told The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler. "It's a very complicated entanglement. He has many wrapped around his flippers. One of the things they were able it to do on Friday is get a lot of amazing photographs and


The first objective, she said, was to locate the whale and assess its condition. "One of the things they're going to do is when they locate him, they're going to take a camera to film underneath because the whale is holding his fins close to his belly. They want to see what they're dealing with." she said.

"If they can and they're able, they will try to remove some of the line. Each step is calculated. This is incredibly dangerous. He's a wild animal and everyone has a huge amount of respect. We also have one of the best teams in the world out there on the East Coast having a lot of experience doing this. But it's incredibly dangerous. It's very important to move slowly and calculate each step they take."

It is not certain how significant are the whale's injuries. Joanne Jarzobski, program coordinator with the Center for Coastal Studies, a nonprofit group which does applied research and marine mammal rescues, said the ropes are wrapped around both flippers, circling the left flipper between 20 and 30 times.

Engleby notes, "He's about a year old, and so he's growing. So we're concerned about the lines cutting into him. That is one of our most significant concerns. That's why we're launching this effort to try to do everything we can, although it's a very dangerous, challenging situation."

If the lines are not removed, they will kill the young whale as it gets bigger.

Engleby says, "There are only 300 right whales left in the world and every single right whale is incredibly valuable to the Right Whale Recovery."

About 60 percent of right whales become entangled in fishing lines, Jarzobski said. Last year, the Center for Coastal Studies received 75 reports of whale entanglements and confirmed 35. Teams from the center were able to free 12 whales, she said.

Whales don't need to be disentangled if the situation is not life-threatening.

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