Free at last: Humpback whale rescued after months of entanglement
In a scene that is becoming all too common, rescuers were filmed freeing an entangled humpback whale off the west coast of Vancouver Island from a mess of fishing line and floats.
The rescue took place Sunday off of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Scientists were tipped off last week that the young whale was roaming nearby waters with the line and floats wrapped around its tail, but a subsequent expedition turned up nothing.
DFO spokesman Paul Cottrell said it got another call Sunday from Jamie’s Whaling Station, the Tofino-based company involved in a fatal capsizing last year, that a whale-watching vessel spotted the entangled animal and kept an eye on it for four hours until crews could arrive.
“If they hadn’t done that, we might not have been able to relocate this animal, so they did exactly the right thing,” Cottrell told CTV News. “They stayed with it for hours and switched off their vessel.”
DFO officials as well as Parks Canada staff from Pacific Rim then located the animal to cut it free.
They discovered it was wrapped in gear unconnected to any B.C. fisheries, leading them to believe the animal got tangled in the U.S. – and judging from the line deeply embedded in its tail, it was tangled for possibly several months.
“It was fairly agitated,” Cottrell said. “We weren’t sure we were going to be able to do it, but the animal was fairly exhausted already from towing that around for so long.”
When the final bit of line was snipped, the whale was seen swimming away while letting out a loud burst from its blowhole – and even seemed excited.
“The animal was pretty cooperative right at the end with keeping its fluke up at the end,” Cottrell said. “You can tell the animal has a burst of energy. It was probably towing this gear around probably five, six months and just not having that drag and it pulling into its flesh, that has to be a relief.”
The rescue took crews about two hours.
Cottrell said DFO researchers have “some hints” on where the gear came from and will follow up with various fisheries to find out.
He said he’s seen an increase in calls for entangled marine mammals, but part of that could be because of increased reporting.
“I think we’re getting the word out so people are aware of who to call, and to call right away,” he said. “It’s terrible to see human gear that these animals are picking up, and if you don’t get that gear off it’s a terrible, slow way to die.”
He also credited a response network comprised of parks officials, fisheries and wildlife tour operators across B.C. and parts of the U.S.
Anyone who sees a marine mammal in distress or dead in B.C. is asked to report it to the toll-free hotline at 1-800-465-4336.