June 10, 2021
Yesterday the Marine Animal Entanglement Response (MAER) team from the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) disentangled a humpback whale in the waters east of Boston. The whale was identified by the CCS Humpback Whale Studies team as a mature female named Valley.
The CCS MAER team was called in by the crew of the Dolphin Fleet whale watch, who found the entangled whale on Monday afternoon on the southern end of Stellwagen Bank, just northeast of Provincetown. When they arrived on the scene the team found that she was towing heavy line that was lodged in her mouth. Sea conditions were poor and getting worse, so the team added a specially-designed satellite tracking buoy to her entanglement and headed back to land for the day.
During the night the whale travelled roughly 25 miles north to the waters outside Boston Harbor, but sometime in the early morning she dragged her entanglement into more fishing gear and had become anchored in place. A lobster vessel found her and reported her predicament, and the CCS team deployed for a second rescue attempt.
Sea conditions were much calmer, and the responders could see that Valley had a long length of rope hanging from her mouth heading to heavy gear at the sea floor. This gear had become fouled in yet more gear, trapping her in place with just enough slack in the line to swim in small circles.
Carefully approaching the whale on a small inflatable boat, the crew used a hook-shaped knife at the end of a thirty foot pole to cut the rope that was anchoring her to the sea floor. They then tied large buoys and a sea anchor the rope in her mouth, so as she swam the remaining entanglement was pulled free. Now completely free of gear, Valley swam off at high speed.
Researchers from the CCS Humpback Whale Program have been studying Valley and her offspring since the mid-1980s. Based on her body condition it appears that she had been entangled for weeks or months, so it’s likely that the entangling gear was picked up somewhere on her migration north from the West Indies. Now free from the stress and exhausting effort of dragging the heavy entanglement, Valley’s prognosis is good.
CCS is grateful to the whale watch vessels and commercial fisher for all of their help in this case.
Boaters are urged to report any entanglement sightings of whales, sea-turtles or other marine animals 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 Broad Reach Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, 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.