Humpback Whale Freed After Spending A Week Tangled In Buoy Line Near Hawaii

A 45-foot-long humpback whale was freed off the coast of Maui this week, after spending over a week tangled in several hundred feet of heavy fishing line.

The whale was first spotted on February 13, 45 miles northwest of Hilo, when observers noted that it was entangled. After its condition was documented, a tag was placed on the humpback, allowing the West Hawaii Marine Mammal Response Network to track the animal. Last Sunday, the whale was once again sighted, dragging a red buoy along the Kona Coast.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary assembled a response team to rescue the whale, though they were forced to suspend efforts to reach the animal due to weather and treacherous currents near South Point. From Tuesday to Thursday, the humpback was tracked moving around the Big Island, before making its way to Maui’s South Shore.

The response team departed Maalaea Harbor Friday morning, reaching the whale around 8 a.m. The humpback’s tail fluke was wrapped in heavy gauge line, which the rescuers found encircled the animal at least five times. The team attached more buoys in order to keep the whale from diving, and worked to cut the line. Coming within 10 feet of the whale, they utilized a long pole tipped with a knife to sever the cord, according to Ed Lyman, Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator at the sanctuary.

“There was no sudden thrashing. It would trumpet blow, which is a sign of stress,” he observed. “It definitely wasn’t happy with us being there. It didn’t understand.”

As the team finished removing the line, only a small fragment remained, lodged in a wound on the whale’s tail. Lyman pointed out that the fragment would eventually fall off, as the laceration heals over time. Researchers also collected tissue samples from the whale, in order to assess the animal’s health. The entire procedure was completed by 2:30 p.m., when the boat returned to the harbor.

Entanglements can lead to a variety of dangerous consequences for whales, causing them to drown or making it difficult to catch prey. Aside from infection, whales also face a higher risk of a ship strike when entangled, as their ability to dive may be effected.

Once freed, the humpback whale set off, swimming unencumbered for the first time in over a week.

[Image: AP/NOAA via the Daily Mail]