The Marine Animal Entanglement Response (MAER) team at the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) freed a young humpback whale Sunday outside Boston Harbor. The whale was badly entangled in fishing gear but is now in a better position for recovery.

Recreational fishermen came across the whale yesterday morning east of Hull, MA and reported the sighting to the US Coast Guard, which alerted the MAER team. The whale was able to swim despite hundreds of feet of rope attached to it. The fishermen and the USCG agreed to stand by the whale while CCS was alerted, but the humpback dove soon after and was lost. The entanglement response team conducted a search for the whale and asked mariners in the vicinity to also keep an eye out for it. Eventually a recreational vessel came across the humpback, four miles southeast of where it had last been seen.

Once on scene, the team assessed the approximately 30-foot whale and found that it had bitten down on the buoy line of fishing gear and the ropes had twisted around its head and tail. Despite its entanglement, the whale was highly mobile and able to dive and swim well enough to evade the MAER team. Using a grappling hook thrown into the entangling gear, the team was eventually able to establish a working line and begin the disentanglement.

Working from a small inflatable boat, the MAER members added large floats to the gear to mark the whale during its dives and slow its swimming. Eventually the team was able to pull itself close enough to the whale to reach out with a knife at the end of a 30-foot pole and make a single cut to its entanglement. Within minutes the gear came off and the whale sped away.

Many thanks goes to the mariners for their help in this case, and to the US Coast Guard and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

At this time the MAER team is monitoring weather conditions on Nantucket Shoals to search for entangled North Atlantic right whale, Snow Cone. If found, the team would also attempt to disentangle her, if conditions allow. Weather conditions have not been conducive to disentanglement attempts since she was last seen south of Nantucket on September 21, 2022. She is not currently being tracked via telemetry, she is free-swimming with her entanglement and her whereabouts are unknown. Sea conditions for entanglement attempts of any whale need to be relatively calm for the safety of responders.

Since 1984, the Center for Coastal Studies has freed more than 200 large whales and other marine animals from life threatening entanglements using techniques developed by Center staff. The Center for Coastal Studies is federally-authorized to perform large whale disentanglement under the authority of a permit issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Center’s disentanglement work is supported by a grant from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MA-DMF),  the Massachusetts Environmental Trust and many private funders.

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