July 7, 2016
The whale, which was towing heavy rope and a large buoy, was first reported by a commercial fisherman on Tuesday morning off Chatham, MA. USCG Station Chatham responded and stood by the whale as the CCS Marine Animal Entanglement Response team (MAER) made its way from Provincetown.
The team was able to attach a tracking buoy to the entanglement before poor sea conditions cut short their efforts. However, the whale was tracked as it traveled south through the night, and by 9.30 am the following day the team was back working with the animal.
The whale had five tight loops of heavy rope wrapped around and embedded within the base of its tail, cutting off the flow of blood to the flukes. As a result, the flukes had turned entirely white and floppy and had become useless for swimming; the whale was making way by dog paddling with its right and left flippers.
The team added a series of buoys to the entanglement to slow the whale and keep it at the surface. Using very sharp knives on long poles they were able to cut away most of the rope, but left some line around the wound that may act as a temporary tourniquet to prevent against massive blood loss. This rope should unwind and be rejected over time.
Scott Landry, Director of the MAER team, noted that, while the overall condition of the young whale appeared surprisingly good – it was active, responsive and not emaciated – its long term prognosis is likely very poor, as it’s possible it may lose its flukes entirely.
The Center for Coastal Studies is grateful to the commercial fisherman for reporting and standing by this whale, and to the USCG for their help in this case.
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 on VHF 16, and to stand by the animal at a safe distance until trained responders arrive.
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 Marine Animal Response Team 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.