Please select your home edition
Edition
Marine Resources 2017 728x90

Thanksgiving whale rescue near Prince of Wales Island

by NOAA Fisheries 30 Nov 2018 13:23 UTC
A humpback whale entangled in heavy gauge lines used for mooring docks. © Scott Van Valin / NOAA

Members of NOAA's North Pacific Large Whale Entanglement Response Team are thankful for Wednesday's freeing of an entangled humpback whale in Sarkar Cove, north of Naukati on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. NOAA received word of the possibly life-threatening entanglement on Tuesday, November 20.

Dr. Fred Sharpe, an experienced member of the team and research biologist for the Alaska Whale Foundation was flown to the scene Wednesday morning to assess options for response. He consulted with NOAA's lead large whale entanglement response expert Ed Lyman on safe strategies before attempting to disentangle the whale.

The subadult humpback was entangled around the upper jaw in heavy gauge lines used for mooring docks. The entanglement included two buoys and a dense snarl of lines, about the size of an ice chest.

Several lines were covering the leading edge of the blowhole, adding to the whale's distress.

Chafing marks around the whale's midsection suggested the animal initially had been ensnared in a full body wrap, perhaps immobilizing the pectoral flippers.

Although water visibility was poor Wednesday due to recent heavy rains, weather conditions were ideal for a disentanglement attempt, with calm winds and rainless skies. The whale was situated in a calm, protected bay.

The team's initial approach to the whale indicated the animal was still energetic, and could easily become agitated—so the disentanglement team stood down and gave the whale plenty of room.

While the whale was thrashing its tail from side to side, its flukes apparently caught on the snarl, which pulled lines from the mouth. However, it then became entangled around its tailstock.

The whale eventually calmed down, giving the team an opportunity to carefully and safely approach. Sharpe used a long pole to slip a hooked knife with line attached on the entangling lines. The team then backed off and by pulling on the line, the knife efficiently cut through the ensnaring gear. The team made several cutting approaches before successfully removing all the gear.

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 about 30 minutes before nightfall.

"We really had a great team," said Fred Sharpe, "We all worked together to carefully and safely approach the animal and remove the gear."

"Using the carbon fiber poles and specialized knives that NOAA folks sent with Fred made all the difference in getting the animal free," added Scott Van Valin, owner of Island Air Express and El Capitan Lodge who assisted in the disentanglement.

Both Sharpe and Van Valin postponed their Thanksgiving plans to aid the entangled whale.

"From Scott Van Valin initially contacting NOAA Fisheries Tuesday to report a possibly life-threatening entanglement of a humpback whale, to his assisting in providing information and transportation to enable the NOAA response team to act efficiently and safely to aid the whale--he was instrumental in the success of this disentanglement effort," said Sadie Wright, acting large whale entanglement response coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Office. "We would like to commend Scott's and Fred's efforts during this event, which resulted in a safe, deliberate assessment and rescue."

NOAA Fisheries would like to thank the following key partners in this effort: Island Air Express, El Capitan Lodge, and the Alaska Whale Foundation.

Mariners are asked to keep a sharp lookout for entangled marine mammals, but not to approach closely or attempt to free them. While well-intentioned, freeing a 40-ton animal is extremely dangerous for the animal and the would-be rescuer; people have lost their lives responding. Getting in the water is especially dangerous. Only trained and well-equipped responders that are authorized under NOAA Fisheries' Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program are permitted to disentangle whales.

If you see a marine mammal in distress, maintain 100 yards distance and please report it immediately to the NOAA Fisheries 24-hour Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 877-925-7773, or radio the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF channel 16, and they will relay the report.

Related Articles

Ten ways we can help monk seals
Veterinarian & field teams work to rescue seal pups, treat injuries, and sometimes even remove eels! Hawaiian monk seals often find themselves in difficult situations, and our staff works hard to prevent and reduce threats to this highly-endangered species. Posted on 17 Dec 2018
How NOAA supports post-storm coral restoration
The future of coral reefs looks bleaker than ever before With rising temperatures comes an increase in mass coral bleaching events, infectious disease outbreaks, and the process known as ocean acidification. Posted on 16 Dec 2018
Learn about deep sea corals through story maps
Visit a series of story maps exploring deep-sea coral Most people are surprised to learn that deep-sea corals exist at all, let alone that they live in waters of every region of the United States. Deep-sea corals appear in all kinds of shapes, sizes, colors, and depth ranges. Posted on 14 Dec 2018
Watch out for whales around Cape Cod
New voluntary vessel speed restriction zone established around Cape Cod Bay to protect right whales A voluntary vessel speed restriction zone (Dynamic Management Area - DMA) has been established around Cape Cod Bay to protect an aggregation of six right whales sighted in this area. Posted on 13 Dec 2018
Large Whale Entanglements National Report
A national report on large whale entanglements confirmed in the United States in 2017 A national report on large whale entanglements confirmed in the United States in 2017. Seventy-Six large whale entanglements were confirmed nationally in 2017, slightly above the annual average. Posted on 10 Dec 2018
Wrapping up marine debris mission at Midway
Our team of five cleans up more than 25,000 pounds of debris in 10 days on Midway Atoll The five of us had amazing weather for the rest of the mission—little to no rain or wind, which meant it was hot while we cleaned up the beaches. Luckily for us, the calm and cool waters were always welcoming Posted on 2 Dec 2018
NOAA Fisheries investigating sea lion deaths
Apparent shooting of several California sea lions in the area of West Seattle NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement is investigating the apparent shooting of several California sea lions in the area of West Seattle since October, and reiterates that sea lions are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Posted on 1 Dec 2018
Watch out for whales south of Nantucket
rmExtended voluntary vessel speed restriction zone established south of Nantucket to protect whales A voluntary vessel speed restriction zone (Dynamic Management Area - DMA) has been established 21 nautical miles south of Nantucket, MA to protect an aggregation of 17 right whales sighted in this area on November 26, 2018. Posted on 29 Nov 2018
New national climate assessment report released
Report highlights impacts, risks and adaptations to climate change A new federal report finds that climate change is affecting the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, and human health and welfare across the U.S. and its territories. Posted on 29 Nov 2018
Watching for right whales more important than ever
NOAA and partners ask the public to give whales space during annual pilgrimage south With an unprecedented 20 right whale deaths documented in 2017 and 2018, NOAA is cautioning boaters to give these endangered whales plenty of room as they migrate south. Posted on 25 Nov 2018
Zhik 2018 Yacht 728x90 BOTTOMMarine Resources BOTTOM