A federal judge in Boston on Friday cleared the way for rescuers to use a sedative to free a whale tangled in fishing line while fighting for its life off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass. District Judge George O'Toole rejected a motion by an environmental activist who said a sedative would kill the 50-ton North Atlantic right whale -- one of an estimated 100 to 500 of the endangered species remaining.
The Center for Coastal Studies, a rescue group from Provincetown, Mass., plans to sedate the whale on Saturday and remove green fishing line deeply embedded in the whale's upper jaw. The whale suffers from a massive infection and has been uncooperative with rescuers.
Environmental activist Richard Max Strahan argued the sedative, untested on right whales, would kill the animal. He said the rescue plan amounted to an illegal taking, or trapping, of an endangered species.
The Center for Coastal Studies is working with the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, which has the necessary permit to harness the whale and free it from the fishing gear, the judge ruled.
A plane first spotted the whale on June 8 about 100 miles (160 km) off the Massachusetts coast.
The black-skinned whale stood out among the dozens of right whales found feeding on Cultivator Shoal because its body was covered with pale gray welts and it had light green lines trailing from its mouth, the rescue group said.
After consulting with several biologists and veterinarians, officials at the National Marine Fisheries Service decided using a sedative was justified in trying to free the whale. The successful rescue of the whale Strahan calls "Eubie" is paramount to preserving the eubalaena glacialis species, whose slow swimming speed made them an easy target for whalers. They are called right whales because whale hunters believed they were the "right whale" to kill for thick blubber.
The Center for Coastal Studies says the successful release of just one animal may have a profound effect on the recovery of the population as a whole. More than 50 percent of known right whale deaths
have been attributed to either entanglements or ship strikes, the group said. - (Reuters)