Marine experts are urging the public to remain vigilant for humpback whales ensnared in fishing gear, following the successful rescue of a humpback entangled in polysteel rope off the coast of Haida Gwaii in northwest British Columbia. This incident has prompted a call for a comprehensive assessment of the factors contributing to whale entanglement in the region, as researchers suggest that the problem may be more widespread than initially thought.
The rescue operation, initiated on May 25 after a public report, was coordinated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Paul Cottrell, the marine mammal response lead for the department, described the whale's predicament as "really, really awful," emphasizing that the animal would likely have perished without intervention. The whale was severely entangled, with the rope passing through its mouth, extending to the tail fluke, and tightly wrapped around the tailstock.
Cottrell noted that this entanglement was among the most severe he had encountered, with the rope deeply penetrating the whale's flesh. The prolonged period of entanglement likely hindered the whale's ability to feed. Despite the challenges, the rescue team managed to free the humpback from the polysteel rope without causing harm to its baleen—the mouth region.
Regarding the whale's post-rescue survival, Cottrell expressed optimism, stating that the intervention had provided the creature with a fighting chance. Ongoing monitoring will determine the long-term impact of the entanglement on the whale's well-being.
Jackie Hildering, the education and communications lead for the Marine Education and Research Society, emphasized the need for further research into the types of fishing gear causing entanglements. She highlighted that over half of humpback whales with scars in British Columbia have survived entanglements, underscoring the importance of addressing the issue at its source.
Humpback whales, previously designated as a "threatened" species in British Columbia until 2014, remain under the federal Species At Risk Act as a "species of special concern." Hildering emphasized the challenges of monitoring humpback whales, noting their lack of familial organization and the absence of biosonar, making them less aware of their surroundings, particularly while feeding.
Given the increasing frequency of entangled whales, Hildering stressed the importance of boaters remaining vigilant and promptly reporting sightings to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. She cautioned against attempting rescues, as it is both illegal and hazardous, even for professionals. Instead, she encouraged boaters to report incidents immediately, providing photographic evidence from a safe distance.
Link to the video: http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2224008259982
Source: Akshay Kulkarni (Jun 07, 2023). Humpback whale rescued after being entangled in rope in B.C. waters. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/humpback-whale-entanglement-rope-1.6867970