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Whale freed from tangled line in Southeast over Thanksgiving week

A humpback whale entangled in heavy gauge lines used for mooring docks. November 21. Scott Van...
A humpback whale entangled in heavy gauge lines used for mooring docks. November 21. Scott Van Valin/ NOAA MMHSRP Permit 18786-03 (KTUU)
Published: Nov. 23, 2018 at 5:29 PM AKST
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Whale rescuers freed a humpback whale in Southeast Alaska earlier this week. A post from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the agency first heard of the entanglement on Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving. The whale was reported to be in Sarkar Cove, north of Naukati on Prince of Wales Island.

First responders found the whale, a subadult male, had a heavy line used for mooring docks tangled around its upper jaw. It included two buoys and what the agency called “a dense snarl of lines, about the size of an ice chest.”

They also found that several of the lines covered the leading edge of the whale’s blowhole, and there were chafing marks around its midsection, suggesting that it had initially been tangled in a full body wrap.

Luckily for rescuers, though water visibility was poor, weather conditions were ideal for an attempt to disentangle the whale, and the whale was in a calm, protected bay. But that doesn’t remove the wild element of a rescue attempt. While the whale thrashed its tail from side to side, its flukes caught the tangle, which pulled some of the lines from its mouth, but then tangled the tail.

The whale eventually calmed down, which gave the team an opportunity to approach. Dr. Fred Sharpe, a member of the Large Whale Entanglement Response Team, used a long pole to slip a hooked knife with line attached on the tangling lines. The team backed off and pulled on the line, cutting through the gear. It took several passes before all the gear was cut free.

“With a gentle roll and swish of its tail, the whale swam completely free of the lines, and headed out to the mouth of the bay,” NOAA wrote in the post.