On Thursday, May 14 the Marine Animal Entanglement Response (MAER) team from the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown released a humpback whale, called Spinnaker, from a life-threatening entanglement in heavy fishing gear.
The whale was spotted on Cashes Ledge, about 90 miles from Provincetown, by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) aerial survey team; they reported it quickly and kept the whale in sight until CCS responders arrived on scene.
Upon assessing the condition of the whale and the entanglement, the MAER team established that the animal was essentially hog-tied from mouth to tail, with heavy gear weighing it down and trapping it in a hunched position.
During a four-hour operation, the CCS responders established a workline to the entanglement and used a fixed knife at the end of a pole to make a series of cuts to the gear until the bulk of the entanglement fell away. Two more lines were pulled from the whale’s mouth before the whale swam away.
Based on underwater video taken at the scene, the CCS Humpback Whale Studies Program identified the whale as an adult female named Spinnaker. This is the third time that Spinnaker has needed help with an entanglement, most recently off Mount Desert, ME in September 2014 (see press release here), highlighting the risks in the habitats that she traditionally returns to each year..
The MAER team would like to thank the NEFSC team, without which this operation would not have been successful. The team would also like to thank the USCG for their help and support in this case.
Mariners 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.
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.