On Saturday, September 13 the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) Marine Animal Entanglement Response (MAER) team travelled to Mount Desert, Maine to assist in the disentanglement of a humpback whale.
The entangled whale was first spotted by the Bar Harbor Whale Watch company on Friday afternoon; the boat stood by the whale while the Maine Marine Patrol responded. The whale had gillnet lodged in its mouth and around its head, and rope from pot gear wound tightly approximately thirty times around its tail. The gear was heavy enough to anchor the whale in place.
MMP removed some of the entanglement and, realizing that the operation would require further effort, outfitted the remaining entanglement with a telemetry buoy so that the whale could be relocated.
On Saturday morning the MAER team flew to Mount Desert and joined the MMP to disentangle the whale. Over five hours, and during rough sea conditions, the team used specially-designed knives affixed to poles to methodically cut away the gear. Once freed the whale moved quickly offshore, and its long term prognosis is good.
The CCS Humpback Whale Studies Program identified the whale as a mature female called Spinnaker, a whale disentangled by CCS and partners in 2006. The research and whale watch community will keep an eye out for the whale to monitor her progress.
The Center is grateful to the Maine Marine Patrol and the Bar Harbor Whale Watch for their hard work and dedication in this difficult case, and to Joe Chronic and his colleagues at New England Specialized Aviation Services.
All mariners are urged to keep watch for entangled marine animals and to immediately report sightings to the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Hotline (1-800-900-3622) or the US Coast Guard, then stand by the animal at a safe distance until trained responders arrive.
CCS, MMP and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have been partnering to enhance entanglement response off the Maine coast for several years. CCS disentanglement operations are conducted in partnership with Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under federal permits issued by NMFS. Support for the Marine Animal Response Team also comes from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust and contributions from CCS members.