JUNEAU - A female humpback whale and her calf escaped the perils of entanglement in Southeast waters according to a release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service.
After receiving a call from fishermen a pair of whales were tangled in fishing gear off Point Baker in Sumner Strait the last week in July, a response team from NOAA's Protected Resources Division, in Juneau, arrived on scene to lend a hand. It was clear the entanglement had become too complex for the fishermen to attempt a rescue, without endangering themselves.
The fishers reported sighting the mother humpback whale and her calf only moments before the whales hit the gillnet and became entangled. It appeared the animals made contact with the belly of the net and were entangled in only webbing, as opposed to any lines. Both animals became wrapped up in a significant amount of netting and became tethered together, lying side-by-side and almost touching. For both mammals, this became a life-threatening situation.
While NOAA scientists assessed and monitored the animals, the whales worked free of each other and began to shed the fishing gear. After a few more hours, the adult female had shed all gear, and the calf had very small remnants of netting still caught on barnacles on its head and on the left side of its tail.
"The remaining gear on the calf would likely be shed within a day," said Ed Lyman, a marine mammal response manager for NOAA. "The entanglement was no longer life threatening for either animal. They'll both be fine."
While the whales did not have to be cut free, NOAA credits the fishermen for reporting, monitoring and assisting in the effort.
Disentangling a 40-ton whale is dangerous and should only be performed by experienced and authorized responders.
Mariners are requested to report any sightings of whales in distress to the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Hotline at 877-925-7773.
To learn more about NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, visit alaskafisheries.noaa.gov or www.afsc.noaa.gov.