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    Minke whale disentangled off Gloucester - 4/23/04


    PCCS team joins the MEP and WCNE for an assessment of the animal
    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

    Late in the morning yesterday, 4/23/04, a fisherman reported a small whale entangled and anchored in fishing gear just outside of Gloucester Harbor. Supported by the US Coast Guard (USCG), the Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP), the Whale Center of New England (WCNE), and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the PCCS disentanglement team was able to free the animal.

    After the initial report, staff from the WCNE went aboard a USCG vessel to relocate and stand by the animal. Considering the high winds and sea, the PCCS team decided to travel over land from Provincetown to Gloucester for a rescue attempt. During this transition the crew aboard the USCG vessel found the animal and confirmed its entanglement. This crew eventually transferred to an MEP vessel to continue standing by and to free-up USCG resources.

    Schematic of entanglement

    Monitoring the animals' behavior, the crew found that the whale was struggling against the weight of the unidentified gear and had assumed a vertical position to keep its blowholes clear of the water.

    When the PCCS team and NMFS personnel arrived at the station in Gloucester, gear was loaded aboard the waiting USCG vessel. Just outside of Gloucester Harbor the PCCS team launched an inflatable and joined the MEP vessel still standing by the whale. The animal had a relatively simple loop of line wrapped around the base of the flukes. This line was heavily weighted to the bottom and appeared to keep the animal in a precarious position where breathing was possible only with effort. Using a surface buoy also connected to this gear, the team was able to move in close enough to throw a grapple and tether near the flukes of the whale in an effort to buoy the entanglement. The grapple connected with and cut the anchoring rope. The whale resurfaced carrying the PCCS work buoys connected to the tether. After a long and surprisingly fast run (about 7 miles in less than an hour) the buoys pulled free and the whale continued offshore. This rather difficult operation demonstrated the need to modify certain aspects of disentanglement to suit minke whales.

    Despite some relatively complicated logistics and plenty of traffic, the disentanglement of this animal would not have been possible without such dedication and cooperation. Without the initial report from the fisherman this animal would likely have been lost. The dedication of the WCNE staff and the MEP was invaluable. The patience and good humor of the USCG crew was especially appreciated. 

    click here to read about previous entanglements


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