Sedation at sea of entangled North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) to enhance disentanglement

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Moore, Michael J.
Walsh, Michael
Bailey, James
Brunson, David
Gulland, Frances M.
Landry, Scott
Mattila, David K.
Mayo, Charles A.
Slay, Christopher K.
Smith, Jamison
Rowles, Teresa K.
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The objective of this study was to enhance removal of fishing gear from right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) at sea that evade disentanglement boat approaches. Titrated intra muscular injections to achieve sedation were undertaken on two free swimming right whales. Following initial trials with beached whales, a sedation protocol was developed for right whales. Mass was estimated from sighting and necropsy data from comparable right whales. Midazolam (0.01 to 0.025 mg/kg) was first given alone or with meperidine (0.17 to 0.25 mg/kg) either once or four times over two hours to whale #1102 by cantilevered pole syringe. In the last attempt on whale #1102 there appeared to be a mild effect in 20–30 minutes, with duration of less than 2 hours that included exhalation before the blowhole fully cleared the water. Boat avoidance, used as a measure of sedation depth, was not reduced. A second severely entangled animal in 2009, whale #3311, received midazolam (0.03 mg/kg) followed by butorphanol (0.03 mg/kg) an hour later, delivered ballistically. Two months later it was then given midazolam (0.07 mg/kg) and butorphanol (0.07 mg/kg) simultaneously. The next day both drugs at 0.1 mg/kg were given as a mixture in two darts 10 minutes apart. The first attempt on whale #3311 showed increased swimming speed and boat avoidance was observed after a further 20 minutes. The second attempt on whale #3311 showed respiration increasing mildly in frequency and decreasing in strength. The third attempt on whale #3311 gave a statistically significant increase in respiratory frequency an hour after injection, with increased swimming speed and marked reduction of boat evasion that enabled decisive cuts to entangling gear. We conclude that butorphanol and midazolam delivered ballistically in appropriate dosages and combinations may have merit in future refractory free swimming entangled right whale cases until other entanglement solutions are developed.
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Public Domain declaration which stipulates that, once placed in the public domain, this work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The definitive version was published in PLoS ONE 5 (2010): e9597, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009597.
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PLoS ONE 5 (2010): e9597
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