Editor’s Note: Humpback whales returning from their Mexican winter vacation have collided with Central California’s crabbing industry with the result of nearly a half-dozen whales entangled in crab traps and rigging. The whales returned earlier than normal–all while the crabbing season is still open. Please visit this blog’s Page: Entanglement News & Updates for individual stories related to entanglement issues. We have made this a separate page because of the volume of whale entanglements around the world.
The photo to the left is from the Whale Entanglement Team (W.E.T), volunteer professionals trained to disentangle whales.
The Chinook Observer notes in a recent story about a humpback calf entangled in Washington State waters, “Each year since 2000 the National Marine Fisheries Service receives reports of approximately 11 entangled large whales off the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, but the actual number of whales that run afoul of active or inactive fishing gear is likely higher. They go unseen or unreported.
“Still, incidents of whale entanglement are rare enough that NMFS hasn’t yet pushed for any changes to states’ gear regulations. There is a need for good information from researchers and fishermen, said Dan Lawson, a fisheries biologist with NMFS’ protected resources division.
“Abandoned or lost fishing gear can go “ghost-fishing,” meaning it keeps on snaring animals even though no one is using it anymore. Anything could tangle with those nets and lines including boats and active gear.”
MONTEREY, Calif. —A humpback whale that was found in the Monterey Bay on April 27 with blue steel rope wrapped around its tail and dragging a 300-pound crab trap was completely freed on Thursday off the Santa Barbara coast.
After returning to shore from the amazing whale rescue on Thursday, Peggy Stap of Moss Landing-based Marine Life Studies said she was so excited she could hardly speak.
Stap and other rescuers are confident the humpback will fully recover.
“We are almost positive. They have a remarkable ability to heal. It wouldn’t have made it if we didn’t remove the rope,” Stap said. “It was so gratifying to see that whale swim free.”
An HD GoPro camera recorded rescuers as they leaned off a tiny inflatable boat and freed the majestic ocean giant. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLgZ8Uc6nUY)
The distressed whale was first found on April 27 by Alisa Janiger. She was on a Monterey Bay Whale Watch boat when she noticed buoys were following the humpback wherever it went.
“We called for assistance, alerted the disentanglement team, and remained on site with this whale…until help could arrive,” Janiger said.
On April 28, a Whale Entanglement Team composed of NOAA officials and marina biologists was dispatched to the whale while it was in the Monterey Bay. The humpback was being weighed down by a 300-pound crabpot that prevented it from diving to feed.
While rescuers were working, three other humpbacks swam up to the troubled whale, seemingly to check on its well-being. The team successfully freed the whale from the crabpot, but before they could cut all of the rope away from its tail, strong wind gusts and 10-foot seas forced the team to stop.
“We would have finished on the 28th, but the weather was totally against us,” Stap said.
Luckily, the team had placed a satellite tracker on the humpback, so they always knew where it was.
A second rescue attempt depended on the weather and ocean being calm enough, and Thursday presented the first opportunity.
They found the humpback swimming off the coast of Santa Barbara, and it was extremely tired.
“The whale was absolutely exhausted and had been through so much. It had traveled 684 nautical miles since we found it in Monterey,” Stap said.
The rope was wrapped so tightly around its tail, the tail would have been severed if it was left on much longer. Stap said there was no doubt that the whale was going to die if the rope was not released.
Rescuers cut all remaining rope from the whale before 9 a.m. Thursday, and the humpback swam away into the blue Pacific Ocean, finally free.