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Humpback Whale Entangled in Fishing Nets for Nearly Two Weeks in Alaska

Sep 04, 2013 03:52 PM EDT
Entangled humpback whale with gillnet near its blowhole.
Amid rough seas and precarious behavior, rescue workers further disentangled a stranded humpback whale Friday, ultimately getting the creature to a point where it could use its tail and pectoral fins to swim away. The whale had been ensnared for more than two weeks in a mess of gillnet and other fishing gear of the coast of southeastern Alaska.
(Photo : NOAA Fisheries, NMFS permit #932-1905.)

A humpback whale ensnared in fishing lines off the coast of southeast Alaska has been entangled for nearly two weeks and crews tending to the marine mammal have so far been unsuccessful in setting it free.

Tuesday NOAA's Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network issued a statement indicating that it's Juneau-based teams were able to disentangle some of the gear trapping the whale but that a "significant" amount of the gear remains.

"This is a difficult entanglement. Much of the gear is underneath the whale, so it is challenging to access both visually and physically," said Aleria Jensen, NOAA's lead for the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network. "We are now discussing the best course of action forward and gathering additional resources."

The statement indicated that the rescue team will pause rescue attempts to wait-out rough seas. During that time they hope the whale will relax and become more approachable.

"The animals don't always understand that you are there to help them," said Ed Lyman, NOAA's West Coast Entanglement Response Coordinator. "This animal has been distressed and markedly evasive, so we are also giving it some space and time in hopes that it will calm down before we take additional action."

Marine mammal experts report the whale is able to breathe and does not appear in any immediate danger, but they are keen to disentangle the creature quickly so that it can go on to feed and to prevent any further trauma.

The whale became entangled in a gillnet off the coast of Petersburg, about 160 miles south of Juneau, on Aug. 23.

Jensen said that another rescue response will be attempted later this week.

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