DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Florida wildlife officials plan to fly over the Atlantic today to check in on a young, endangered right whale wrapped in rope suspected to be from crab traps.
They hope to see how the 30-foot whale's doing after wildlife officials cut more than 150 feet of rope off the animal last week.
A team of federal and state wildlife officials intercepted the whale by boat off Daytona Beach on Thursday.
As the whale swam at speeds nearing 12 mph, rescuers cut and removed rope wrapped around its head and fins. However, some of the rope remains in the whale's mouth and around one of its flippers.
"We're optimistic that what we did made a tremendous help to this animal immediately," said Jamison Smith of Fisheries Service.
FWC first sighted the entangled whale on Christmas Day, during routine aerial surveys to spot right whales in their only known calving grounds off Georgia and northeast Florida.
By Friday, a satellite tag placed on remaining lines dragging behind the whale put the animal off Cape Canaveral. By Monday, it was about 10 miles of Fernandina Beach.
The rescue included the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Today's FWC flight will check to see whether another intervention is needed.
Entanglements can cause infections and eating difficulties that kill whales and add extra drag that wastes the animal's energy.
Studies show most whales escape with only minor scars. But entanglements can last years before whales completely shed the threat.
This one is the only known new whale entanglement so far this migratory season, Smith said; although, some whales have rope tangled on them from previous years.
There are an estimated 350 right whales remaining.
Right whales spend their summers feeding off the New England and Canadian coasts, then migrate to the south to give birth to calves from mid-November through mid-April.
But when tangled in fishing gear, young right whales may wander back and forth, seeking places they felt safe as calves, Smith said. So they cross paths more often with an even greater threat: collisions with ships.
"It definitely puts them at risk because they're swimming great distances," Smith said.