Entangled humpback near Campbell River sparks concern, call for help from marine advocates

Entangled humpback near Campbell River sparks concern, call for help from marine advocates

Marine life advocates are asking the public to keep an eye out after an entangled whale was spotted in waters off Campbell River, though boaters are reminded not to get too close and instead notify experts who have the proper resources.

The humpback named Vector was last sighted near Sentry Shoal on Friday, June 28, the same day the Marine Education & Research Society (MERS) posted an alert.

“If you’re out there, be valued eyes, realizing how vast our coastline is, how big the problem of entanglement is, and just to be on the alert generally for Vector and other entangled whales,” said Jackie Hildering, humpback researcher with the Canadian Pacific Humpback Collaboration (CPHC) in an interview Monday.

Watch the report below:

MERS says Vector’s entanglement may be “difficult to see,” adding that the DFO and local ecotourism operators, as well as Straitwatch, have been notified.

It says Vector is Scoop’s (BCX0870) 2021 calf.

“The most important thing to do is to get the wheels in motion, and that is (DFO’s) 1-800 hotline number. They are the ones who coordinate the disentanglement,” said Hildering. “We, as the CPHC, use our networks and give that information, including who (the whale) is, where they are likely to be…”

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She says they were able to ID Vector last week thanks to help from Kaitlin Paquette of Homalco Wildlife Tours and Tasli Shaw of Humpbacks of the Salish Sea.

People are encouraged to take photos of whales for evidence of entanglement.

“The public is of massive help in finding the whales and knowing what to do, but not in the disentanglement. And again, it’s even illegal: you can’t touch a whale, and you can’t be within that close a distance,” Hildering told CHEK News.

According to the Government of Canada’s website, boaters must keep a minimum distance from whales or risk fines.

“Of course, staying outside 200 metres…” said Hildering.

She’s thrilled humpbacks have made a big comeback in B.C. waters in recent years but notes an estimated 50 per cent have scarring from entanglement.

“Our research supports that about half the humpbacks in coastal B.C. have scaring from engagement … Humpbacks, most often when they die, just sink to the bottom of the ocean, so generally, it’s an appeal to the public with us being so lucky to have a second chance with humpback whales,” she said.

“Entanglement is a very big problem for them.”

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Most times, whales in such a predicament “aren’t in immediate danger of dying,” explains Hildering, though she adds that the long-term impacts can include abrasion, infection, and the inability to move or feed properly.

“Sometimes, and that’s not the case for Vector, the whales are actually anchored down, and they could drown when the tide rises,” she said.

“Those are the more urgent cases.”

And with that comes a push to educate boaters about the dangers. While orcas have biosonar and can detect things like nets, humpbacks can’t, says Hildering.

“In the last decade, there’s been a really big shift, an increase (in humpbacks) on our coast,” she said. “A huge chunk of our work is educating boaters around the risk of collision, and then appealing to the media and the public about keeping eyes open for entangled whales and knowing what to do and what not to do.”

Hildering says there’s no “reliable” population estimate.

“Our scar study research is the most solid indicator of how many are getting entangled, but how many are dying and never detected?”

The CPHC has a “How to Save a Whale” guide on its website with tips, including why it’s important not to attempt to remove any fishing gear or rope.

“…it’s finding them and getting the expertise and equipment to them and not doing something that actually doesn’t help the whale,” said Hildering.

“There’s a lot of romanticism around disentanglement, and very understandably, there’s the focus from media and others that, ‘Yay, we disentangled a whale.’ But what about the ones that we don’t see, and did that whale survive?”

DFO rescue team on the lookout

Hildering says people need to be cautious with debris to help prevent future entanglements — a problem that impacts more than just humpbacks.

“The marine debris aspect has to be dealt with,” she said.

“Anything with a loop, anything that is a line. It’s not just a problem for whales, Steller sea lions get them around their necks. Unless something is biodegradable, if it ends up in the ocean, it is posing many threats, including entanglement. This is a problem that needs to be stopped at the source. No fisherperson wants to lose their gear, no fisherperson wants a humpback to be entangled.

“It has economic repercussions for them.”

She says despite more people, like Guardian Watchmen, being trained to help deal with such incidents, disentangling a humpback can be challenging. In similar incidents in the past, fisheries officers have used tracking tags and drones as well as buoys to slow down whales and make rescue efforts easier.

“Even if Vector is found, will he be able to be disentangled from those who have the expertise and the equipment?” added Hildering.

“It really emphasizes that this is a widespread problem that has to be stopped because you’ll never see every entangled whale, and if you do, will they survive?”

To report entanglement with location in B.C., call the DFO Incident Line at 1-800-465-4336.

“The DFO large whale rescue team has been looking for this entangled whale (Vector),” said spokesperson Paul Cottrell.

“The entanglement will be a very difficult one to attach a working line to, given the lack of trailing gear and the fact the entanglement is so close to the body.

“We will do our best to help this animal.”

MERS has tips on how the public can help Vector:

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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