Tangled whale dissappears before responders arrive

Posted: Friday, June 18, 2010

National Marine Fisheries Service managers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were not able to relocate a whale that had been reported entangled Wednesday near Hump Island.

A whale-watching tour boat operator reported the entangled humpback whale at about 11 a.m. Wednesday. They kept track of it for some time but NOAA Marine Mammal Response Manager Ed Lyman said by the time a response team arrived, the whale had disappeared.

"It's quite likely this animal could have thrown the gear," which was a small-gauge line over its head, Lyman said. "It's possible it's free or possible it swam out of the area."

Lyman said the response team would appreciate any further information about the animal, which could be spotted again by fishermen, boaters and tour operators in the area.

"The boating community is a big part of the response effort," he said.

The whale was last seen Wednesday at about noon near Hump Island in lower Lynn Canal. It was swimming hard and fast, probably trying to throw the gear, Lyman said about the initial report.

Whale researchers, a law enforcement officer and members of the response team went out to the area in a skiff. If they had been able to find it, they likely would have responded in a second vessel, an inflatable boat, in order to not scare the animal, but instead to get close enough to remove any line or gear.

Whale entanglements are reported about half a dozen times each season in Southeast Alaska.

Humpbacks remain on the endangered species list but are coming back in numbers with a current growth rate of about 6 percent. There are an estimated 20,000 living in the Northern Pacific.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.

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