The Story of #NYC0071 is an example of where our work, and our programs contributed to the direct intervention and success story of Saving a Whale.
It all began as a routine day for Artie Raslich, Gotham Whale’s Official Photographer and Catalog Curator in November 2017.
Artie had just returned from a trip on his boat, Ship of Fools, and was reviewing his photos . These images are posted so that Gotham Whale can attach them to each record in our database, GWdata. The images from Artie are of high quality and tack-sharp, excellent for discriminating the subtle features of the flukes and dorsal fins by which we identify individual humpbacks. One photo caught his eye.
It was a shot of the blowhole, or nostrils, always interesting, but not useful for identification. Out of the hundreds of photos we process, only a few can be used to ID a whale as an individual. This whale had something strange across its back. How many of you noticed…….?
Closer inspection showed a rope, just behind the blowhole, and Artie realized that this whale was entangled…
Entanglement is a major problem for whales in the Western Atlantic. Fishing nets, lobster pots, and all manner of dangling lines in the water make a deadly obstacle course for whales throughout their feeding range. Second only to shipstrikes, entanglement poses the largest cause of mortalities in humpbacks and North Atlantic Right Whales; both of which have had an Unusual Mortality Event declared by NOAA since late 2016.
Gotham Whale works closely with NOAA, the agency responsible for marine mammals in US waters. We immediately notified Scott Landry of the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA. The CCS houses the Marine Animal Entanglement Response team This team is trained and authorized to respond to entangled whales along the Atlantic Coast. It is dangerous work and even well meaning citizens are prohibited from intervening to help an entangled whale. We needed to wait for a team to travel to NY.
In the meantime, Gotham Whale was monitoring the condition of the whale. We re-sighted it and reported to CCS along with more photos so that they could plan their disentanglement efforts – what kind of knives, equipment would be needed etc.
But it’s not easy…..
The Disentanglement team arrived by November 12th and fortunately the seas were calm and Gotham Whale was able to give a heads up on where it was seen last. By this time we had obtained a fluke shot and gave the whale our ID # NYC0071. The US Coast Guard was called in to help find the whale and maintain a protected area for the Disentanglement team to work.
The team’s effort was captured by Artie from The Ship of Fools, coming very close, but not being able to cut the line or free the whale.
The weather changed, making further attempts impossible. Gotham Whale did not re-sight NYC0071 for the rest of the season.
– A disappointing conclusion for all involved.
The Story does not end there…..
wait, wait, what’s that red thing……June 22, 2018
To give you an idea of the painstaking work required for this kind of analysis and the quality of the photography needed to do this work, here is a comparison of the original image and it being magnified, without much loss, to see the glimpse of the red buoy that could easily be missed in a photo with less resolution.
This lunge feeding humpback was seen in the following photos and confirmed to be NYC0071…!!
It was almost a year that NYC0071 had been known to have been entangled. (It could have been much longer.) The good news was that the whale was feeding and even breaching, indicating that its swimming was not impeded. It showed little evidence of malnutrition, but entangled ropes can wear into bone and cause long term deadly results. The line was wrapped around its upper jaw.
Gotham Whale’s relationship with the CCS team was now well established and our role of observers and photo providers went into operation. The 4th of July water activities around NYC made immediate response impractical, but by July 11th the team was in place and successfully cut the main line that remained since our first sighting in 2017. The monofilament line and the buoy remained like spinach in ones teeth. The photos here document the material still stuck in its baleen plates. July 15 was the last date where the material was visible, so it is hoped that NYC0071 shed all the lines and netting, and is living free and eating well. Gotham Whale will maintain records on this whale and report further encounters to the good people of the Disentanglement Team.
Time line of photos showing entanglement up until line was cut on 7/11/2018. Photos contributed by Gotham Whale volunteers. (without this work, the data, and the story would be lost)
The data collected by Gotham Whale contains the latitude and longitude for each sighting. We are able to construct maps such as the one below that traces the locations of NYC0071 and its travels around NYC.
Thanks to All !!
Thanks to Artie Raslich and our team of volunteers for giving us the ability to participate in this success story. Also thanks to Scott Landry and the exceptional personnel of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response team who risk their lives to free whales. Also to the US Coast Guard and the network of friends and colleagues in the NY area who work with Gotham Whale.
But especially, Thanks to you, members and supporters of Gotham Whale. I hope YOU will feel part of this wonderful story of real action in the real world, of people helping whales. We hope it will be just the beginning of Gotham Whale’s good work.
Sincerely, Paul L. Sieswerda
President , Gotham Whale.