Rescuers pull over 37 meters of rope from entangled humpback whale

Pollution and waste are the source of a plethora of problems in the modern age, on a planet whose population size has increased alongside the invention and use of resistant materials which, when left as waste, can take years, decades or centuries to decompose. . The ocean is now home to several “garbage islands” as the Great Pacific Garbage Patchmade up of detritus blown from the land and materials lost at sea (we remember Friendly floats?) that can be swallowed or entangled by marine animals.

One such entangled animal was spotted on Maui this week, where a humpback whale had a gauge line wrapped around its mouth and a left pectoral with a rope trail about 15 meters (50 feet) behind it. The sighting triggered a coordinated response from the National Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary of the Hawaiian Islands with permission from NOAA Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Programwho have experience in removing gear from large marine animals.

Patches of cyamide amphipods (whale lice) were found on the whale, indicating the animal’s poor condition. Image Credit: Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary/NOAA MMHSRP (Permit # 18786-05)

The entangled subadult whale was found off Lahaina, Maui, by tour boats assisting a search operation looking for a humpback calf that appeared to have been separated from its mother. After recognizing the predicament the young whale was in, the excursion vessel Ultimate Whale Watch monitored the animal until the sanctuary’s research and response vessel could arrive on the scene to try to remove the line.

Unfortunately, the sturdy piece of equipment had actually dug into the whale’s tissue, after digging into the back of the mouth. This meant that rescuers were unable to pull or cut the line without causing further damage. Instead, the team worked on the vanishing line wrapped around the left pectoral fin, which they had more success with. By carefully cutting the material they were able to remove about 37 meters (120 feet) of equipment, but with all the fuss the distressed whale quickly became “uncooperative” and it was decided that further intervention could do more harm than good.

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Mariners are urged to keep a close watch for whales in distress and, if you see any, do not enter the water or attempt to untangle the whale yourself. Maintain a distance of at least 90 meters (300 feet) and call the NOAA 24/7 Marine Wildlife Helpline at 1-888 256-9840, or radio the US Coast Guard on VHF CH. 16 and they will respond accordingly.