Unfortunately, the failed efforts to save Kingfisher are common when it comes to disentangling northern right whales.
In 1991, researchers spent more than $250,000 trying to rescue a northern right whale tangled in rope, but couldn't save it. Despite massive rescue efforts to rescue a right whale in 1999, the animal died as the polypropylene line that was wrapped around both flippers and around the body gradually burned through its skin, blubber and muscle. In 2001, multiple attempts to save a 50-ton right whale named Churchill cost more than $250,000 and didn't work.
The record is troublesome, particularly for the northern right whale. While populations of species like the fin and humpback whales remain fairly healthy, scientists believe there may be only 350 northern right whales left in the ocean. That means every individual whale, particularly females, are vital for preserving the species. And records show about 60 percent of the entire right whale population becomes entangled in fishing lines.
What makes northern right whales so difficult to help is also what makes them unique, their size and strength. The massive mammals, which grow as old as 70 years, range in size from 45 to 60 feet as adults and weigh 30 to 80 tons.
When an entangled whale is spotted (usually by a fisherman), an alert is sent to a network of private, state and federal agencies, including the Center for Coastal Studies, NOAA, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, that are spread out along the U.S. and Canadian coasts. The closest team sets out toward the animal to determine if the whale can free itself.
If they decide it's necessary to try and free the whale, the teams use an old whaling method known as kegging to disentangle the whale. Kegging involves attaching large floats -- or kegs -- to the gear entangling the animal (whalers would attach them to the animal, itself, using a harpoon). The added weight creates drag and eventually slows the massive animal and prevents it from diving under. People in rafts then try and cut the lines off the whale, using specially designed tools that feature hooked blades at the end of long poles.
Northern right whales have proven to be more resistant to the drag of attached floats and so more difficult to free. In the attempt to save Churchill in 2001, scientists injected the animal with sedatives to further slow it down so they might cut the ropes free. But the method was considered risky and the team later lost Churchill's tracking signal and believe the whale died.