Right whale entangled in fishing gear off Southeast Georgia coast and freed

Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildfish Conservation Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration all worked together Friday to save a North Atlantic right whale entangled in a rope attached to fishing equipment.

The right whale was spotted off of Cumberland Island on Thursday evening by FWC's aerial survey team. He had a rope lodged in his mouth and had been pulling a heavy piece of fishing equipment behind him.

Clay George, a wildlife biologist with Georgia DNR, said the whale's condition proves he had been entangled for quite some time.

"It could have dragged it all the way here from Canada and so ultimately we know from experience if animals that are in this condition and this badly entangled and we can't free them, that they almost certainly will die," George said.

Thursday, when they spotted the whale, they tagged him with a green buoy and at 7:30 a.m. Friday, they set out to find him and cut him free.

Geroge said the process that took several hours, but fortunately they were able to get close enough to him to help.

"Usually, it doesn't turn out quite this clean-cut. Often, they swim away and still have some rope on them and weeks or months or years go by before they are seen again. We feel pretty confident that there is no rope left on him and he has a fighting chance," said George.

According to George, they had to use a pole with sharp knife on the end. That knife was placed along the side of the whale where the rope was. They say that pole was then attached to a buoy so it would float as the whale pulled it along and after 30 minutes, it sawed through the rope, freeing him.

George said they have seen this particular whale before and recognized him by scars that he has from getting tangled up in the past.

"We immediately knew actually this specific whale's identity. Part of that is because there is very few right whales left and we do everything we can to try to take care of them when they get in trouble," George said.

This species is teetering on the brink of extinction with only 450 left.

"Over about 80 percent of animals in this population actually have marks and scars from having been entangled before. It's a chronic problem that these animals are dealing with," George said.

He also says if anyone ever sees an animal like this in distress to immediately call the Coast Guard so professionals can help.

'You should never try to intervene yourself because you could be very badly injured or even killed. The animal's behavior is very unpredictable," George said.