Video shows Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) staff leading the rescue of a severely entangled humpback whale off the coast of British Columbia last week.
Pacific Marine Mammal Response coordinator Paul Cottrell says the DFO received a tip from the public about an injured humpback whale off Haida Gwaii on May 30.
DFO staff were already in the area and were able to put a satellite tag on the animal so that incoming rescue crews could track the whale.
“I ended up getting up there and the next morning we went out with Parks Canada as well,” said Cottrell. “We had the safety boats with Parks Canada and the DFO vessel.”
When the rescue teams caught up with the humpback, Cottrell says it was “heartbreaking” to see how the whale was entangled.
Fishing gear had wrapped around its mouth and tail, with the entangled ropes pulled taut around it.
“So this animal, it was in a crescent shape,” said Cottrell.
“It couldn’t swim straight because of the gear configuration,” he said.
The DFO rescue crews started by removing the gear from the whale’s mouth.
“Unfortunately, once we had released that tension, we thought the animal would straighten out,” he said.
“But he was still in a bit of a crescent shape.”
The crews then went to work on the rope tangled around the whale’s tail.
They found that when they removed some of the rope that was deeply ensnared, it ended up injuring the whale as well.
“So we decided to leave the rope that was deeply embedded and cut some of the adjacent rope around it,” said Cottrell.
“The animal swam off and it did straighten out a little bit but it still had that crescent shape,” he said.
The DFO estimates that the whale had been entangled for a long time, considering how deeply the rope was embedded in the humpback’s tail, and because of the amount of algae that had built up on the gear.
“So we’re going to monitor and assess that animal over time to make sure it’s going to make it,” said Cottrell.
“We gave it the best chance we could, it was a great effort by everyone.”
INCREASED HUMPBACK PRESENCE IN B.C.
Earlier this year, DFO crews managed to rescue a similarly entangled humpback whale near Port Hardy, B.C.
Cottrell says the Pacific Marine Mammal Response team has received four reports of entangled humpback whales so far this year, but were only able to locate and rescue these two.
He says it’s “good news” that more and more humpback whales are returning to B.C. waters, but their increased numbers also means a greater chance of encountering fishing gear or boats.
“It’s so important for the public, if you see an entangled whale that’s distressed or in trouble, please call our 1-800 number, 1-800-465-4336,” he said.
“It improves our chances of rescuing these whales if we get there quickly.”
Cottrell says there’s more and more research being done into improving the safety of the fishing industry worldwide, but that it’s going to take some time for any of those innovations to become a reality.