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THE GREEN BLOG

Scientists sedate, untangle giant whale at sea

(Marine Right Whale Project via Associated Press)
By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / March 16, 2009
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Excerpts from the Globe's environmental blog.

For the first time, a severely entangled North Atlantic right whale has been given sedatives in the open sea, which allowed rescuers to remove thick fishing line cutting into its upper jaw and left lip.

The whale's prognosis was uncertain, but scientists say the exercise could prove invaluable in helping other whales facing injury or death when they become entangled in fishing rope.

Scientists have long been frustrated in trying to help entangled whales. Yet over the last decade, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in collaboration with the National Marine Fisheries Service and veterinary schools at the University of Florida and the University of Wisconsin, have developed a sedation system to slow the animals and make them more approachable by rescue boats.

The injured right whale was sighted east of Brunswick, Ga., on Jan. 14. At first, the whale evaded researchers. The next day, they tried again, using a sedative delivered by a remote syringe, but they still failed.

Over the next several weeks, researchers increased the dose of the sedative dose until, on March 6, rescuers got near enough to cut about 90 percent of the rope from the 40-foot, 40,000-pound animal.

The North Atlantic right whale is the most endangered great whale, with a population of fewer than 400. Colliding with ships and becoming entangled in commercial fishing gear are leading causes of death for the right whale.

The fuel of the future

For many, the question isn't "Will a different transportation fuel dominate the market in 40 years?"

It's which one - electricity, biofuels, or hydrogen? And will it be plug-in, or battery powered, or both? And food-based ethanol, or something more advanced?

But in a session at the recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Conference, analyst John Casesa, a onetime GM employee who spent 17 years on Wall Street before opening his own consultancy, says he does not envision much change.

"I don't see a dominant solution even 50 years out," he said. "Internal combustion is pretty compelling. Others will have only 10 to 12 percent each" of the market.

John Viera, who works on sustainable business strategies for Ford Motor Co., said he expects "movement away from petroleum," but a continued focus on liquid fuels, "probably cellulosic ethanol."

Meanwhile, Viera said, Ford has "recently made a conscious decision to emphasize electricity in [its] advanced R&D."

MICHAEL PRAGER

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