Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)

Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Help was fortunately close at hand for a humpback whale that found itself entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off Nanaimo yesterday.

Paul Cottrell, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Marine Mammal Response Program coordinator, said fisheries officers happened to be working just off Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10, following up on reports of suspected whale entanglements, when an emergency call came in from a commercial fishing vessel just five minutes away that had discovered an adult humpback whale entangled in its prawn trap line.

Cottrell was linked in to the call and advised crews at the scene to stay back and monitor the situation.

The animal, an adult estimated at about 12 metres long, had become so entangled it was anchored in place, possibly for as long as 24 hours, when it was discovered.

“It was a 50-string trap line with anchors on either end on 3,000 feet of rope, so there was a lot of gear that was holding this guy down, a lot of weight,” Cottrell said.

The marine mammal response boat and team rushed to the scene from the mainland and started assessing the situation with an aerial drone and remote-control submersibles. The commercial fisher provided information about the equipment that ensnared the whale.

“We don’t go in and cut things until we know exactly the gear configuration because you can make things worse if you cut the wrong line and also it can hurt the animal, so we took our time,” Cottrell said.

The whole operation took about six hours, including about four hours to disentangle the whale, which had the rope wrapped about four times around its tail.

“The rope that’s used is Polysteel. It’s nasty stuff and it’s fairly abrasive and the animal had injuries on the dorsal side, on the dorsal ridge, from I think when it became entangled … and it was just anchored in place,” Cottrell said. “Its tail stock was down and the animal was just breathing, maybe every five to 10 minutes, just holding position and trying to breathe. It was something.”

With the assessment done, Cottrell’s team was able to move in and cut the rope from around the whale’s tail as well as some loose lines and then they watched the animal for about 30 minutes.

“When it was freed … it took it a while to get back the tail fluke movement pattern, so it was slowly moving and we were just making sure all the gear was off,” Cottrell said. “There was one small piece of loose rope that’s left that we’re going to be monitoring, but there’s no tension on it and we believe it’s around the left pectoral fin. So, that’s something we’re going to watch over time, but it’s not considered life-threatening and it was loose, so we’re almost certain it will fall off on its own … By the end of about an hour after it was acting normally again and was moving on. It was fantastic.”

READ ALSO: B.C. getting a second chance to coexist with humpback whales

Cottrell said there are a large number of humpbacks in the area that have returned to the Salish Sea. The whales winter in Mexico and around Hawaii and return to the Salish Sea in the summer to feed on shrimp and other food sources. Last year about 30 whales returned, but a count for this year hasn’t been completed yet.

Humpback populations have been recovering after they were nearly hunted to extinction before whaling was halted in Canada in 1959.

The whale rescued Thursday has not been identified and its sex is unknown. That information will be gathered later with further observations.

“It couldn’t have worked out better,” Cottrell said. “I’m just still so happy.”

READ ALSO: Young killer whale untangles itself from trap line off Nanaimo’s Rocky Point



photos@nanaimobulletin.com
Like us on
Facebook and follow us on Twitter

DFOrescueSalish SeaWhalesWildlife

Just Posted

The Kimberley Refugee Resettlement Group is active again after a few years off and are working to find a home for Gloria in Kimberley. Photo taken at a KRRG fundraiser several years ago. Bulletin file.
Kimberley Refugee Resettlement Group active once more

KRRG working to find a refugee a safe place to live in Kimberley

The Kimberley Aquatic Centre is set to reopen its doors to the public on July 6, after being shut down due to the pandemic in March, 2020. The Centre will be initially operating with reduced occupancy and limited program offerings. Bulletin file.
Kimberley Aquatic Centre set to re-open July 6

New safety infrastructure, limited guests and programming allow facility to open again

Interior Health is reporting a COVID-19 exposure at Selkirk Secondary in Kimberley. Bulletin file.
COVID-19 case identified at Selkirk Secondary in Kimberley

Interior Health is conducting contact tracing

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League met for their AGM and announced a number of new initiatives, new awards and changes in their executive committee, as well as the starting date for the 2021-22 season. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL announces start dates for 2021-22 season

Season set to begin Oct. 1 with league still following all health guidelines

Calvin Dickson photo.
Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for East Kootenay

Conditions favourable for the development of thunderstorms, hail and heavy rain

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Grace (left), a caribou that was born in a maternal pen north of Revelstoke, is alive and well said the province. It appears she even has a calf. Maternity pens aim to increase caribou calf survival by protecting them from predation until they are older and less vulnerable. (Contributed)
For the first time in years, caribou numbers increasing near Revelstoke

North herd growing but south herd still concerning

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Kelowna General Hospital. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna General Hospital declared over

Three people tested positive for the virus — two patients and one staff — one of whom died

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

Most Read