A remarkable joint effort took place off the coast of Witless Bay, resulting in the successful liberation of mother humpback whales that had become entangled in over 500 feet of crab fishing gear.
The entanglement of the mother and calf was initially noticed by Joe O'Brien, the operator of O'Brien's Boat Tours in Bay Bulls, on Thursday. Recognizing the urgent need for assistance, he promptly contacted Julie Huntington of Whale Release and Strandings, a non-profit organization specializing in the rescue of trapped marine life.
However, the whales proved elusive, momentarily disappearing from sight until they were once again sighted on Friday.
"This whale was in constant motion, swimming at a speed of five or six miles per hour. It made me ponder, 'What would I do if I were a whale with a rope on my tail? Where would I head?'" O'Brien humorously shared with CBC News on Tuesday.
After giving it some thought, O'Brien concluded, "Well, since the whale isn't close to shore, it must be offshore."
Eventually, the whales were located near Green Island, approximately five kilometers off Witless Bay, adjacent to an ecological reserve.
Huntington described the situation as challenging due to the continuous movement of the whale. "Disentangling a whale in motion is a very difficult task," she explained.
"What concerned us the most was the imminent opening of the recreational fishery the following day. We feared that someone encountering the animal might have attempted to approach the buoys trailing behind the whale, inadvertently becoming ensnared in the extensive rope," Huntington expressed.
With great caution, the team proceeded with their mission, skillfully cutting the rope and evaluating the circumstances. After approximately 90 minutes, they successfully freed the whale from its entanglement.
O'Brien, who also serves as an auxiliary member of the Canadian Coast Guard, participated as a supporting vessel during the operation and was astounded by what he witnessed.
"I can only compare it to hooking up to an elephant, or even a herd of elephants. Personally, it was heart-wrenching to witness their efforts. I was truly amazed," he shared.
Huntington acknowledged that the rescue exemplified an exceptional level of cooperation among all those involved. "Without Joe O'Brien's assistance, we would not have been able to untangle this whale," she gratefully acknowledged.