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    Humpback whales disentangled - 7/16/2006

     
     

    Two humpback whales were disentangled off the New England coast this weekend. One animal was found anchored in fishing gear off the coast of Maine, the other was free-swimming with its entanglement within the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Both animals were originally sighted by whale watch vessels. Both animals were completely disentangled.

     

    Whale surfaces for air with head to left and portion of body to right. Note green rope across blowholes. Light green patch next to whale is the white, left flipper under water and the pale bands across the back are rope burns.
    Image courtesy Kaitlyn Allen at Allied Whale/Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company - please request PCCS permission for use.

    A humpback whale that was found heavily entangled in fishing gear southeast of Mount Desert Island, Maine, Saturday afternoon (7/15/06) by the whale watch vessel Friendship V, was disentangled by PCCS on Sunday. The crew and naturalists from Allied Whale, working aboard the whale watch vessel, described the animal as stationary in its entanglement, with multiple wraps of rope across its body and embedded within the blowholes. Due to time of day and distance from shore, no disentanglement response was possible on Saturday. Based upon the description from the reporting vessel, the entanglement was deemed life threatening over the long term but over the short term, a response was planned for the following morning.

    Early in the morning of 7/16/06, the Maine Marine Patrol headed out in heavy fog to the location of the last sighting and found the whale alive and and still anchored. They were followed by the PCCS disentanglement team. After assessing the entanglement the team decided to make a single cut to the rope over the whales' head. The animal had a single wrap of line over the upper jaw. The line was tightly twisted and lead to heavy gear at the seafloor. After making the single cut with a hook-shaped knife at the end of a long pole, the whale swam off quickly into the seafloor. The operation would not have been possible without the dedication and patience of the whale watch crew and the Maine Marine Patrol.

    The second humpback whale, a mature male humpback whale first seen in 1981, named Meteor, was sighted by researchers from the Whale Center of New England working aboard the whale watch vessel Miss Cape Ann. The whale watch vessel called the sighting into the US Coast Guard (relaying it to the PCCS disentanglement team) and set up a stand by routine with other whale watch vessel and research vessels in the area (including the Voyager III, Portuguese Princess and the NOAA research vessel Nancy Foster that was conducting research with the National Marine Sanctuary).

     

    Disentanglement team approaching Meteor by inflatable with R/V Ibis in background.
    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.

    When the PCCS disentanglement team arrived on scene, Meteor was traveling with another humpback whale toward the northeast. Meteor had a 2-3m length of rope and a buoy caught in a healed wound on his right fluke tip (the wound was not caused by the entanglement) and trailing behind. The team cautiously approached both animals and threw a grappling hook, attached to a tether and small buoy, into the entangling rope. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the team used a grappling hook at the end of a long pole, finally attaching a tether to the entangling gear. Within moments, drag from the work buoy pulled the entanglement free from the whale.

     

    Right fluke tip of Meteor just below the surface. Note the curled wound on the leading edge of the fluke (not caused by this entanglement) and the pale rope twisted and trailing beyond the tail.
    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.

    As in the case of the whale off the Maine coast, the successful disentanglement of Meteor would not have been possible without the dedicated effort of many people and agencies. We would like to thank all of the whale watch passengers, as well as the whale watch companies, involved in these efforts. Thanks also to the crew of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Nancy Foster. Thanks also to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary for their personnel support.

    click here for a list of previous entanglements

     
     


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