June 26, 2019
On Monday, June 24 the Marine Animal Entanglement Response team at the Center for Coastal Studies responded to an entangled humpback whale east of Chatham, MA.
It was a challenging rescue operation for the team: The young whale was free-swimming in a group of 40 – 50 humpbacks, and the entanglement, a black rope stretched tight across its back, had no visibly trailing loose ends that the team would normally use to disentangle the animal.
The team made a slow, controlled approach to the whale from aboard the R/V Ibis and was able to cut the rope across its back using a hook-shaped knife at the end of a thirty-foot pole. While the exact configuration of its entanglement is still unknown, it is hoped the whale will now shed the remaining rope without further intervention.
The whale was discovered by a Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary team, which was conducting a whale tagging study off Cape Cod, and they volunteered to stand by the whale until CCS arrived. The CCS response team was conducting a research cruise in the area with the CCS Humpback Whale Studies Program, and responded quickly. Once on scene the entire operation lasted was completed in about two hours.
The whale was in relatively poor condition and had likely been entangled for some time. Using naturally-occurring markings for identification, the whale will be monitored over time for any signs of change in its health or entanglement configuration.
Boaters are urged to report any entanglement sightings of whales, sea-turtles or sharks to the MAER team (1-800-900-3622) or the US Coast Guard on VHF 16, and to stand by the animal at a safe distance until trained responders arrive.
CCS disentanglement work is supported by grants from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MA-DMF), and the Massachusetts Environmental Trust. Support is also provided by the Pegasus Foundation, the Hermann Foundation, the Mary P. Dolciani Halloran Foundation, and contributions from CCS members. All disentanglement activities are conducted under a federal permit authorized by NOAA.