North Atlantic right whale no. 1218, an adult male nicknamed Argo, is swimming freely after responders removed lobster pots and commercial fishing rope tangled around the tail of the school bus-sized animal. Georgia Department of Natural Resource biologists were key to the effort that took place off the coast of North Carolina from Jan. 27-29.

Many of the same responders helped free another right whale, “Nimbus,” off the Georgia coast on Jan. 20.

North Atlantic right whales are highly endangered with fewer than 350 remaining. They come to the waters off Georgia and Florida to give birth in the winter. Only about 75 adult females remain and they can only give birth every two to three years. So far this calving season 11 mother/calf pairs have been spotted, most of them off the coast of Georgia. Another calf was found dead in North Carolina.

Entanglement in commercial fishing rope – like that used in lobster, snow crab and other fixed-gear fisheries – is the leading threat to the species, along with injuries from vessel strikes. Disentangling them is a last-ditch response to conservation.

“The only solution for this species to turn the corner and resume recovery is to stop human-caused mortality,” said Georgia DNR Marine Mammal Coordinator Clay George, who helped in both of the January disentanglement efforts.

It’s clear in the video below that dragging the rope and gear seriously injured Argo. It’s uncertain he’ll survive. As of Feb. 7, the whale hadn’t been seen again.

Watch as responders work to free a right whale from lobster gear that had wrapped around its tail. After the whale is freed they retrieve the crushed lobster pots.

Mary Landers is a reporter for The Current in Coastal Georgia with more than two decades of experience focusing on the environment. Contact her at She covered climate and...