Humpback whale trapped in prawning gear freed off Vancouver Island
VICTORIA -- A 40-foot-long humpback whale that was entangled in prawning gear off Vancouver Island was freed by specialists on Thursday.
DFO marine mammal coordinator Paul Cottrell says his team was called for reports of an entangled whale off Gabriola Island, near Nanaimo, from "many sources" on Thursday.
A team sailed to the area and located multiple different whales, but none were entangled, according to Cottrell.
Just when the team was going to chalk up the reports to a false alarm, DFO received a call from commercial fishers about a whale being caught in their prawning gear.
Cottrell says it was fortunate that the team was already in the area, about one nautical mile away from Entrance Island, and were able to get to the scene quickly.
The crew, alongside support from the commercial fishers and Nanaimo fishery officers, was able to locate the whale and carefully assess its condition.
Cottrell says the adult humpback whale's tail was caught in several lines of prawning gear, weighing it down.
"The gear itself was commercial prawn gear, so 50 traps (spaced) 60 feet apart, so 3,000 feet of line, anchors on either end and floats," said Cottrell. "So this animal was anchored and struggling just to get to the surface."
The DFO estimates that the whale had been caught in the gear for about a day. It was exhausted and agitated and struggled to get to the surface to breathe. Cottrell says the animal would be able to heft the weight of all the prawning gear and poke its head above water, but the rest of its body would remain submerged.
Responding teams took time to assess the situation using a drone and GoPro camera, says Cottrell, because incorrectly removing gear can make the situation worse for the animal.
Crews were eventually able to cut all the prawning gear free and the whale "had instant relief" says Cottrell. The teams monitored the whale for about 45 minutes after it was free to see what its condition was.
The DFO says the humpback was swimming normally and crews hope that the whale will make a full recovery, though they did notice some damage to on the whale's dorsal fin.
Cottrell says the commercial fishers did everything right in the situation. They had gone out that morning to check their prawn traps and when they noticed the entangled whale they called the DFO right away, he says.
Anyone who spots a distressed or entangled whale in B.C. is asked to call the DFO Pacific Region at 1-800-465-4336. Cottrell says a marine mammal team is always on call, 24/7, to respond to reports.
The DFO asks that people do not approach or attempt to free distressed whales because it can be dangerous for both people and animals. Instead, call in a report and take a picture if possible.