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Humpback still trapped in fishing gear

Posted: September 3, 2013 - 4:15pm  |  Updated: September 3, 2013 - 11:01pm
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Response team members Fred Sharpe, of the Alaska Whale Foundation, and Kirk Hardcastle. a fisherman, move towards the entangled whale in an attempt to cut some of the gear loose.
Response team members Fred Sharpe, of the Alaska Whale Foundation, and Kirk Hardcastle. a fisherman, move towards the entangled whale in an attempt to cut some of the gear loose.

Efforts to untangle a humpback whale trapped in fishing gear for 12 days have largely failed to free the mammal.

Some of the material has been removed, but a large portion under the whale is compounding the problem, said Aleria Jensen with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

“This is a very difficult entanglement,” Jensen said. “Much of the gear is underneath the whale, so it is challenging to access both visually and physically.”

Multiple efforts have launched out of Juneau recently, but the team is now taking some time to let the waters and the whale calm down.

“These animals don’t always understand that you are here to help them,” said Ed Lyman, the NOAA’s west coast entanglement response coordinator. “This animal has been distressed and markedly evasive.”

A satellite tag has been attached to the whale so teams can monitor its movement, and buoys were connected to the fishing gear to alleviate some of the added strain on the whale.

The entanglement is not preventing the whale from breathing and it is not in immediate danger, but experts are concerned the tightly wrapped fishing gear could have long-lasting impacts on the animal or prevent it from being able to feed.

Another response effort is likely to be launched later this week, Jensen said.

The humpback became entangled in a tended gill net in Frederick Sound near Petersburg on Aug. 23. An initial response team from NOAA first reported the entanglement as life-threatening.

A significant amount of fishing gear is being dragged behind the whale and could pose a danger to boats that get too close to the trapped mammal, so officials are asking mariners to stay away, Jensen added.

Boaters who come across entangled mammals should call the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 877-925-7773 or the U.S. Coast Guard on Channel 16.

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