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Humpback whale on Jeffreys Ledge
PCCS team member uses a mask to peer under water during the assessment of the entanglement. Buoys were attached to the entanglement for flotation. Note white rope on whale's back in the foreground. PCCS image taken under NOAA-Fisheries permit 932-1489, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts - please request PCCS permission for use
On Saturday (5/29/05) a badly entangled humpback whale was released from a life threatening entanglement by PCCS on Jeffreys Ledge, off the coast of Massachusetts/New Hampshire. The whale was found to be entangled by whale watching vessels that took turns standing by the animal while PCCS made the crossing from Provincetown. SeaTow, a private company recently trained by PCCS, took the last turn at standing by the whale as PCCS arrived. The invaluable support of the whale watch crew and passengers, as well as the crew of SeaTow, made the disentanglement possible.
The life threatening entanglement consisted of a single line through the mouth that twisted together along the right side of the animal and wrapped around the base of the flukes. From the flukes, the line sank down to heavy gear. The line crossing over the back of the animal was deeply impressed into the skin, attesting to the amount of weight on the line. The animal was effectively hogtied and anchored to the spot and was able to make it to the surface to breath only with difficulty. The configuration of the entanglement made for a complicated disentanglement.
diagram of entanglement - red o represents site of grapple attachment and red x represents the single cut
With the support of the PCCS rapid response vessel Ibis, the team arrived on scene at 4:30pm and deployed a small inflatable boat to make the approaches necessary for disentanglement. The team used a grappling hook to attach a work line to the rope descending from the flukes. The team then added large floats to the work line in an effort to raise the flukes nearer to the surface and to slow the animal as it made continual clockwise circuits around its anchor. After a few hours of effort the team was able to create enough flotation to raise the flukes of the whale within a few meters of the surface. Using a hook-shaped knife at the end of a long pole, the team was finally able to make a single cut to the twisted rope just forward of the flukes at 8:15pm. The rope at the flukes unwound immediately as the weight of the gear pulled downward and the whale was left with a clean length of rope through the mouth that should come free as the animal resumes feeding. The whale spent a few minutes at the surface before heading rapidly offshore. Despite numerous abrasions along the back and flukes, the overall condition of the animal appeared to be fair, if a bit thin. It is hoped that future sightings of this whale will shed light on the healing process and the condition of the remaining rope at the mouth.
The patience and support of hundreds of people, crew and passengers alike, made the disentanglement of this whale possible. In particular we would like to thank the captains of the whale watching vessels Prince of Whales, Granite State and Atlantic Queen II. Thanks also to SeaTow Boston and SeaTow Salem for their professional and efficient support. Thanks also to the US Coast Guard for communications support.
This whale has not yet been identified and any future updates regarding its identity and/or condition will be posted here.