Fisheries and Oceans biologists gave a frightened humpback whale room to swim alongside their boat as they carefully cut away at crab gear that had hogtied the massive animal from its tail to its mouth off Haida Gwaii.
“It’s awe-inspiring when you see them, and when you get that close, you have to be so careful,” said Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Marine Mammal co-ordinator Paul Cottrell.
The young whale was spotted late last month off Haida Gwaii tied up in fishing lines that Cottrell estimates it had been dragging for weeks. According to rescuers, the line had cut into the animal so tightly it was unable to feed.
“For several, several weeks because when we removed the gear, the animal was still in a crescent shape. It didn’t straighten out,” said Cottrell.
It’s the second humpback freed from fishing gear in B.C. waters in 2023.
The first was hogtied in lines off Port Hardy in January. Cottrell said it’s likely an indication of the so-called ‘Humpback comeback’ here, as the species rebounds after whaling wiped their numbers out a century ago.
“It could be a record year at this rate,” said Cottrell.
So far, both rescues have proved successful, and in video of the Haida Gwaii entanglement, rescuers can be heard cheering as the last line is cut away from the whale.
“It felt very good to just get all that gear off and see it swim off. And it did show a burst of energy … and knowing that this animal almost certainly would have died if we hadn’t been able to get that gear off. So we’ve given it that chance with removing that line,” said Cottrell.
So rescuers are urging people who spot an entanglement to call the B.C. Marine Mammal Response Network hotline at 1-800-465-4336.
The young whale released from gear near Haida Gwaii is still being tracked by Fisheries and Oceans Canada two weeks since its rescue, and rescuers are hopeful for its full recovery.