Officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans rescued a humpback whale entangled in fishing gear near Port Hardy.
“We got a call Sunday morning from a vessel in the Broughton Archipelago for a whale in distress,” said Paul Cottrell, a marine mammal coordinator with the DFO. “It was towing gear and a buoy.”
Within hours rescue teams took to the sea to try and find the animal. DFO Officers managed to spot and tag the whale with a satellite tracking device so they could follow its movement through the night.
“It was moving slowly,” said Cottrell. “It was in distress and agitated. By Monday morning it was off Port Hardy Airport. We got out at first light and were able to locate the animal … and it was exhausted.”
Officials removed over 120 metres or 400 feet of rope from the whale. “Not only was its tail wrapped, but it also had a line through the mouth,” Cottrell said. “It was basically hogtied.”
Rescue crews worked for over three hours to free the whale, DFO believes the rope came from prawn gear. Experts say accidents like this are a common occurrence for whales, as there’s little-to-no natural light illuminating the lines at their foraging depths.
“In the end, when we did get that last rope out – you can tell that animal sensed total relief,” Cottrell said. “We’re very optimistic the animal is going to have a full recovery.”
The source of the rope is still under investigation, but Cottrell believes it came from somewhere in the Salish Sea and that the whale had been trapped for at least a week.
It’s the first whale disentanglement rescue of the year for Cottrell, who has participated in over 50 rescues throughout his life. He says in the last decade, the population of whales has increased along with the number of trapped whales.
“We’re seeing numbers we’ve never seen before. So it’s a good news, bad news story,” said Cottrell. “They’re also coming into B.C. waters with gear.”
The DFO doesn’t believe the rope came from commercial prawn gear. Cottrell is praising the vessel which originally made the report and wants to remind the public to call their hotline 1-800-465-4336 if you spot a distressed whale.