Humpback Whale entanglement: May 27, 2012

This is the update from Jared and Christie with regard to the Humpback Whale entanglement in Knight Inlet on May 27th. Hi all, Just wanted to give you all an update on the entangled whale yesterday. As we mentioned last night, the success depended on the involvement of a lot of different people, so we wanted to share the story of how events unfolded yesterday. Thanks to the report from Alex, which was passed along by Leah, we were able to get in touch with Chris (who had reported the entanglement). We were then in touch with Paul Cottrell who we assume had just heard from the DFO radio room via Chris about the situation. We're still unsure exactly who Chris is or how he became informed about the situation as he was near Bute Inlet when we spoke to him but in any case he was very helpful in passing along details about the vessels on scene, their contact info, and the nature of the situation. While Paul was making arrangements to fly up here, we and Nic assembled the disentanglement gear that Cetus owns. Due to having all this gear on hand Paul was able to travel light. Once loaded down with all this gear and some extra fuel courtesy of Dad Towers we left the Bay and arrived on scene on the Knight Inlet side of Minstrel Island at 15:45. The prawn boats were standing by and explained the situation. The gear was set in the early morning and they heard from another fisherman around noon that there was a whale wrapped up in it. We went over to have a look at the whale which was laying on the surface taking shallow breaths. It was anchored to the bottom with all the gear and was completely immobilized. It was vocalizing almost non-stop when we were close to it, and was only able to show its head to about halfway to its dorsal fin above the surface. Shortly after our arrival, Fishery Officers Kyle and Lindsay from Port Hardy arrived on scene in the Protection Point (Fisheries Patrol vessel). They had come straight from dealing with a float plane crash near Sullivan Bay... they were the first on scene for the crash and were able to rescue all passengers from the plane, before arriving on scene at the entangled whale. Paul's float plane arrived at 17:15, and we all discussed the situation and possible strategies. The decision was made to try to grapple for the gear that was under the whale, to try and get a sense of what we were dealing with. Unfortunately, due to the weight of the gear, it was not possible to pull up on it. The decision was then made to have the prawn boat start hauling their gear. They were able to retrieve about 1/3 of their traps before reaching a spot where the gear was caught up on a rock and could not be hauled in further. Luckily, while we were using a GoPro underwater camera on a pole to try to further assess the whale's entanglement (made difficult by the fact that the water was very murky), the prawn boat managed to grapple for their gear at another spot, and continued hauling traps, reducing a little of the weight anchoring the whale. Once some of the weight was relieved, the entanglement on the whale was more visible. There was a line wrapped around its flipper, which then ran over its back, and wrapped twice around its tailstock. Using a specially designed knife at the end of a pole (developed by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts), Paul was able to cut the line that was wrapped around the whale's flipper. Once this line was cut, we were able to see the whale's dorsal fin for the first time. There were injuries apparent on the dorsal fin from where the line had scraped away its skin, but we were later able to recognize the whale as the same one that Alex photographed in Knight Inlet on May 17 of this year. With the prawn boat still relieving some of the weight of the gear on the whale, Paul and the Fishery Officers were able to make the final cuts of the line around the tailstock of the whale, freeing the whale completely from all gear at around 20:00. It appeared to take the whale a few moments to realize that it was free. It then started moving, at first very slowly, raising and lowering its back over and over again. It gradually picked up a little speed and we stayed with it for a few minutes before having to leave in order to get back to Alert Bay before dark. We never saw the fluke of the whale, nor was the fluke photographed the last time the whale was seen, so we do not have an ID of the whale yet. We were however, able to confirm from a later viewing of our underwater video that the only gear attached to the animal were the lines that got cut off :) Photos from the disentanglement, and dorsal fin photos of the whale are attached. If anyone sees this whale, it would be great if you could notify us so that we can document its condition. ~ Christie and Jared