The disentanglement team prepares to cut entangling lines as whale surfaces for air - PCCS image
On Sunday, August 14, 2005, PCCS and collaborators disentangled a humpback whale on Browns Bank, 70 miles south of Nova Scotia, Canada. The whale was reported as entangled on August 12 by a fisherman as he was checking his lobster gear. The fisherman reported that the whale was anchored in the buoy line connected to approximately 100 lobster traps at the seafloor. Based upon this information many organizations gave support, including the Canadian and US fisheries and coast guards, and a disentanglement operation was coordinated with the PCCS humpback whale research program that was conducting its annual Gulf of Maine research cruise.
On Saturday a supporting team member from PCCS traveled from Cape Cod to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia while the Canadian Coast Guard sent out an aircraft to document and assess the entangled whale. The following day, in rough sea conditions and poor visibility, the NOAA Fisheries research vessel Delaware II diverted to the entangled whale and obtained further shipboard documentation. Hoping for better sea conditions, the crew of the R/V Shearwater prepared for a disentanglement attempt on Sunday.
Leaving before dawn on Sunday, the Shearwater began the crossing to the last known location of the whale. Though sea conditions had improved somewhat, waves of five-feet and thick fog made for difficult sighting conditions. After a bit of a search the whale was found not far from its original location and a disentanglement/safety plan was formed, taking into account the local conditions and the availability of safety support in such a remote area. A small inflatable was launched and the disentanglement team began its approach to assess the entanglement.
The whale had heavy rope running through the mouth and tightly wrapping both flippers and the circumference of the body. Two large buoys were connected to the entanglement by a large wad of twisted rope and chain. Rope descending from this area to the seafloor kept the whale in a relatively small patch of ocean. The overall condition of the whale appeared to be good but there was heavy scarring along the length of its body, including a deeply imbedding scar across the shoulders. Even if the whale had been able to break the rope anchoring it to the seafloor, the entanglement was complicated enough to pose a severe, long-term threat.
The whole operation would not have been possible without the support of PCCS humpback whale research program and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Outstanding support came also from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, NOAA-Fisheries and the crew of the Delaware II; The Canadian and US coast guards; the reporting fisherman; the crews of the Song of the Whale and Wanderbird. Any future updates will be posted here.