Minke whale freed from entanglement south of Martha’s Vineyard

Line was wrapped tightly round the whale's lower jaw. CCS image, NOAA permit 18

Line was wrapped tightly round the whale’s lower jaw. CCS image, NOAA permit 18786

The Center for Coastal Studies Marine Animal Entanglement Response (MAER) team freed a badly entangled minke whale on Sunday, July 5. The whale was caught by the mouth in fishing gear and had been anchored in the same spot for at least three days.

The whale, which was located  about 40 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard and 40 miles southeast of Point Judith, RI, was first reported by a passing mariner late in the afternoon on Friday,  July 3. Poor weather conditions in the area the following day prevented an entanglement response, but the team was on scene early on Sunday morning.

The 15-foot whale had a tight wrap of rope around its lower jaw, with the rope leading to fishing gear at the sea floor. The whale was able to stay at the surface for air but could only move in small circles; it was also very wary of boats and submerged when approached.

The MAER team was able to tie a control rope into the entangling gear on the whale and pull themselves up alongside the animal from aboard a small, inflatable boat. Using a hook-shaped knife at the end of a long pole, the responders were able to cut the rope caught in the whale’s mouth. The rest of the entangling line was pulled off the whale as it quickly swam away.

MAER team used a hooked knife to cut the line from the whale's mouth. CCS image, NOAA permit 18786

MAER team used a hooked knife to cut the line from the whale’s mouth. CCS image, NOAA permit 18786

The whale did sustain injuries from its entanglement, but is likely to heal. “I think the whale is probably doing well today; it may be a little sore from being entangled for so many days, but overall it looked to be in good condition once we released it” commented responder Jenn Tackaberry.

“We are very thankful that the mariner reported the whale” said MAER team member Bob Lynch. “Had we not received notification as quickly as we did, the outcome would have been very different.”

The disentanglement took place at the southern extreme of the response area of the MAER team, which includes the waters off Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Boaters are urged to report any entanglement sightings of whales, sea-turtles and other marine animals to the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Hotline (1-800-900-3622) or the US Coast Guard, and to stand by the animal at a safe distance until trained responders arrive.

The MAER team is grateful to the US Coast Guard and Jon Lang for their help in this case.

CCS disentanglement work is supported by a grant from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MA-DMF). Support for the MAER program also comes from grants from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, the Pegasus Foundation, the Hermann Foundation, the Mary P. Dolciani Halloran Foundation, the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation, the Grace W. Allsop Foundation, the MALLRD Foundation, and contributions from CCS members. All disentanglement activities are conducted under a federal permit authorized by NOAA.