Officials on the lookout for whale tangled in line, buoys

Posted: Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Officials are on the lookout for a humpback whale that was spotted Saturday entangled in line attached to buoys.

Kamie Liston said she and her husband were boating around 2 p.m. Saturday and spotted the whale tangled off Hannas Reef in Icy Strait, on the west side of Admiralty Island.

The 35- to 40-foot whale was entangled in line to which two buoys were attached, Liston said. One buoy was white and one was red and white. About 250 feet of line trailed behind the animal.

The whale came out of the water enough to breathe, but did not raise its tail to dive, she said.

They watched it for about 90 minutes as it repeated the pattern of swimming about 4 knots and resting. Then the whale, still entangled, began to swim south down Chatham Strait. The Listons headed north to get fuel in Hoonah.

Meanwhile, they called the Coast Guard, which notified the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

No new sightings have been made since Saturday, but whale rescuers are ready to go, Sheela Mclean, the public information officer for NOAA Fisheries' Alaska region, said Tuesday.

Local pilots and the Coast Guard are on the lookout for the whale, said Sitka biologist Jan Straley, who studies humpback, killer and sperm whales.

A group of whale rescuers has boats ready in Juneau, Sitka and Glacier Bay, Straley said.

The rescue process takes time, though, because the group consists of volunteers who need approval from NOAA before mobilizing.

"The problem is NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) is underfunded and understaffed," Straley said.

NOAA has no boats in Alaska that are dedicated to whale rescues, Mclean said.

An entangled whale can survive for a long time if its feeding ability is not impaired, according to Straley. Many whales show up in Hawaii "wearing Alaska gear," she said.

"This whale was cruising down some heavy traffic, so hopefully someone will see it," Straley said.

If the group does find the mammal, it would slow it down by adding buoys to the entanglement, she said. It would then cut the point of attachment to allow the whale to swim freely.

Whale entanglements are uncommon, said Straley, who has untangled four or five in 15 years.

Anyone who spots the whale is asked to call the Alaska Regional Office of Protected Resources at 586-7235.

• Tara Sidor can be reached at tara.sidor@juneauempire.com



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