A team of wildlife experts in Daytona Beach, Fla. has freed an endangered North Atlantic right whale from 150 feet of fishing rope that had been wrapped around its head and body.
The group consisting of state, federal and conservation officials tracked down the whale off the coast of Volusia County on Dec. 30, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
The disentanglement team removed most of the ropes and cut several pieces still remaining on the whale’s body.
“We were very concerned about this whale as the entangling ropes appeared to be life threatening,” said Jamison Smith of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to the Sentinel.
“However, given the efforts of the disentanglement team, we are optimistic the whale may shed the remaining ropes on its own, so we will continue to monitor its condition via aerial surveys and intervene again if necessary,” Smith added.
With a population of only 300 to 400 worldwide, right whales are thought to be the most endangered large whale. The animals feed off the coast of New England and Canada in the summers, and migrate southeast to the waters off Florida and Georgia for breeding season in mid-November to mid-April.
“(Right whales) are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972,” NOAA said, according to MSNBC. “Vessel strikes and entanglement in fixed fishing gear are the two greatest threats to their recovery.”
An aerial survey team first spotted this particular whale, a 30-foot long male thought to be less than 2 years old, on Christmas Day off northeast Florida.
The state wildlife officials then attached a satellite tracking buoy to the trailing ropes before a larger team was assembled to untangle the ropes.
Scientists typically find one or two entangled right whales in the region each year, MSNBC reports.