Entangled humpback whale rescued


POSTED: Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's turning out to be a busy season for whale rescuers in Hawaii.

On Christmas Day, marine experts freed a juvenile humpback whale entangled in what is believed to be fishing gear a couple miles south of Lahaina.

It was the second entangled humpback rescued in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary this month.

About 12:15 p.m., the tour boat Napili Explorer noticed the whale acting strangely, creating more white water than usual about two miles south of Lahaina, said Ed Lyman, marine mammal response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Several boats stayed about 90 minutes to keep track of the 35-foot whale, which appeared to have been hit by a boat.

The rescuers discovered the whale's tail was entangled in fishing line less than half an inch thick that trailed some 60 feet behind the calf. The line sliced into the animal's blubber, causing a 6- to 8-inch-deep gash near the tail blade and threatening the animal's life, Lyman said.

Beneath the tail, officials noticed the whale pulling a small anchor usually used for sedentary fishing gear, such as gill nets.

Whale lice covered the animal's wound, indicating poor health. Because of the type of line and the condition of the wound, Lyman estimated the whale became entangled more than a month ago and swam with the line from Alaska, more than 2,500 miles away.

But the whale, believed to be a male about 2 years old, still appeared to be in good shape and not emaciated.

Lyman and David Mattila, science rescue adviser, piloted a 17-foot inflatable boat about two feet behind the whale and grabbed onto the entangled line. As the whale pulled the boat, the men used a 10-foot pole with a hook knife and made six cuts to the line.

As the sun set at about 5:30 p.m., Lyman made the final cut and the whale swam away.

He had cut some line beneath the whale's tail, but couldn't tell if the anchor came off.

“;We definitely got a lot of gear off the whale and definitely increased its chances of survival,”; Lyman said.

On Christmas Eve, NOAA received a report of an entangled whale off Oahu's north shore, but the whale swam away by the time officials arrived.

Lyman said the whale they freed could have been the same animal.

The sanctuary's first whale rescue this month involved a yearling that was seen a couple miles off Maui on Dec. 1. The rescue lasted nearly a week, but the yearling was freed and swam away with two adult whales.