A right whale, trapped in over 300 feet of fishing line off the Georgia coast, is now freed of most of that burden.

Right whale #4057 is a four-year-old male, first spotted off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida on 16 February. Researchers first noted the marine mammal was caught in fishing rope, while observing the animal on 17 February, 40 miles east of Georgia. This equipment dangled dangerously from his mouth, threatening his survival. When this was discovered, wildlife professionals had to act quickly.

"Coordination between research teams is essential during these types of events. Because the whale was found late in the day, we had a narrow window of time to assess the whale's condition and its entanglement and decide on a course of action," Katie Jackson, a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sent rescue workers out to save the whale. Traveling between Sapelo Island and Saint Simons, they cast a "cutting grapple," custom-designed to cut the fishing rope. Within seconds, the daring move was successful, and right whale #4057 swam away to safety. While most of the rope was removed from the whale, rescuers were forced to leave at least 20 feet of the fishing line still dangling from the whale's mouth.

Biologists say damage done to the whale show the animal may have been caught on the rope for weeks or months. The fishing line was likely caught in baleen, filters whales use to strain food.

Right whales migrate from Canada, down the east coast of the United States, in order to give birth in the warm waters off the coast of Florida and the southeast.

Wildlife experts estimate only 450 right whales still exist in the world, including 100 females of breeding age. They are one of the most intelligent of all animal species. Accidents involving commercial fishing gear are considered one of the greatest threats to the survival of their species. Around 80 percent of right whales bear scars from encounters with commercial fishing gear, and six in ten have been entangled more than once.

In the past, some right whales who became tangled with line were able to extract the rest of the line on their own. Other times, the gentle behemoths are unable to free themselves. There is no way to know the fate of #4057 until biologists see him again.

"It's impossible to know if he'll survive, but at least we gave him a fighting chance," Clay George, leader of right whale research for Georgia DNR, said in a press release.

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