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NOAA aids rescue of gray, beluga whales.

Late last fall, while NOAA scientists and others struggled to save two gray whales trapped in ice off Point Barrow, Alaska, another rescue operation saved 27 beluga whales off Anchorage, Alaska. The Anchorage incident at Cook Inlet occurred on Sunday, 23 October, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The small white whales were a part of an isolated population of the species in that area numbering an estimated 500-1,000 animals.

The belugas were believed to have stranded as the tide went out during the late morning or early afternoon. Notified by an environmental group, two NOAA scientists and a veterinarian quickly helicoptered to the area, which is surrounded by quicksand-like mud-flats. Two local kayakers had already begun the process of keeping the animals wet with blankets and buckets of water.

When the tide finally reached the whales, they became excited and, as soon as the water covered them, swam away. When last seen, all 27 animals (three calves, four yearlings, and twenty adults) were swimming in a normal manner. None of the whales was believed to have died. There are about 30 whale strandings yearly in Alaska and the NMFS has established a statewide stranding network to respond.

But it was "Operation Breakthrough" that caught the world's attention off Point Barrow where, initially, three gray whales had become trapped in the ice. The episode began in early October with the discovery of the three whales by a hunter. By 14 October, the two breathing holes used by the whales had shrunk from "basketball court" size to about 15x30 feet, and the nearest open water was almost 5 miles away. Efforts to secure a hovercraft barge to cut a channel for the whales were stymied by technical problems and an impregnable 30-foot-high pressure ridge. Ron Morris, with the NMFS office in Anchorage, and Eskimos began using chain saws on 15 October to enlarge the shrinking breathing holes.

On 19 October workers began to cut new holes, hoping to lead the whales toward open water; two volunteers from Lakeland, Minn., arrived with six water circulation pumps which proved vital in keeping the breathing holes open. On 21 October, Under Secretary William Evans learned of two Soviet icebreakers in the vicinity and with State Department help, requested their assistance. Two vessels, the 443-foot Admiral Makarov and the 518-foot Vladimir Arseniev were volunteered. By then, though, the smallest of the whales was no longer surfacing and was presumed dead.

By the 22nd, a string of 55 holes had been opened, but the whales refused to cross a shallow, 12-foot deep area. The same day, Rear Admiral Sigmund Petersen, Director of NOAA's Pacific Marine Center and aide LCDR Terry Jackson arrived in Barrow to coordinate rescue logistics, and an Air Force C-5XA cargo plane brought in an Archimedean Screw Tractor to the site for ice cutting. On the 24th, the ice crew in Barrow connected a series of holes to create a single open channel about 600 yards long which allowed the whales to roll and breathe more normally.

On the 25th the Soviet icebreakers began attacking the pressure ridge, new holes were cut by the ice crew to bypass the shallow area, and by nightfall, the Arseniev was within 1/4-mile of the whales. On the 26th, the Arseniev came within 200 yards of the whales. On the 27th, the Soviets made their last passes through the ice, and lights and pumps were shut off at nightfall to eliminate any stimulus that might hold the whales. On Friday the 28th, Eskimos at the breathing hole watched the whales surface at 8:45 a.m. and head toward the open water--the last time they are seen; favorable weather and ice conditions continued for the next several days. Finally, on 5 January 1989, 17 groups and individuals that played key roles in the rescue were honored at a Washington, D.C., ceremony by Commerce Secretary C. William Verity and Under Secretary William E. Evans.

Summer Flounder FMP Approved

Richard B. Roe, Northeast Regional Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), announced in September 1988 that the Fishery Management Plan for the Summer Flounder Fishery (Plan) had been approved. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council developed the Plan which has objectives of reducing fishing mortality on immature summer flounder, increasing long-term yield from the fishery, improving uniformity of management between state and Federal waters, and minimizing regulations to achieve these goals. Final regulations were to become effective on 3 November 1988, implementing the following management measures:

1) It will be illegal for those issued a Federal fisheries permit to fish for summer flounder, or to possess or land summer flounder or flounder parts which are smaller than 13 inches in length.

2) If a state has established a minimum size for summer flounder which is larger than 13 inches, the state's size limit will prevail.

3) Foreign fishermen will not be able to take summer flounder.

4) Both commercial vessels and recreational vessels landing more than 100 pounds (party and charter boats) fishing for summer flounder in Federal waters will have to obtain an annual permit.

5) Those states with more restrictive regulations pertaining to net mesh sizes and minimum summer flounder sizes will be encouraged to maintain them.

6) Three years after the Plan goes into effect, the Council will determine whether it is working to reduce fishing mortality. If it is not working, a 14 inch minimum fish size may be established.

"All measures, including the Permit requirement, will be enforced beginning 3 November 1988," Roe said.
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Title Annotation:National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Date:Jan 1, 1989
Words:924
Previous Article:Stansby honored; Burton, Tillman, Angelovic named.
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