More than 37 meters of rope was removed from an entangled humpback whale by rescuers.


Image Credit: NOAA MMHSRP

Pollution and waste are the root of a slew of issues in the modern world, on a planet whose population has evolved in lockstep with the invention and widespread use of hardy materials that, when discarded, can take years, decades, or centuries to decompose. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for example, is now home to many “trash islands” made up of trash blown in from the land and material lost at sea (remember the Friendly Floatees?) that can be eaten by or entangle marine animals.

A humpback whale with a gauge line wrapped around its mouth and left pectoral, as well as a trail of rope approximately 15 meters (50 feet) behind it, was discovered entangled in Maui this week. The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary launched a coordinated response with the help of the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, which has experience extracting gear from large marine animals.

On the whale, patches of cyamid amphipods (whale lice) were discovered, suggesting the animal's poor health. Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary of the Hawaiian Islands/ NOAA MMHSRP

The entangled subadult whale was discovered off the coast of Lahaina, Maui, by tour boats assisting in the hunt for a humpback whale calf that appeared to have been separated from its mother. After realizing the young whale's precarious condition, the Ultimate Whale Watch tour vessel kept an eye on him until a sanctuary research and response vessel arrived on the scene t

o attempt to cut the thread.

Unfortunately, the strong piece of equipment had dug into the whale's tissue at the back of the mouth and became lodged. This meant that the rescuers couldn't pull or cut the line free without causing further damage. Instead, the team concentrated on the trailing line that wrapped around the left pectoral fin, which proved to be more effective. They were able to remove about 37 meters (120 feet) of gear by making careful cuts in the material, but the distressed whale quickly became "uncooperative," and it was determined that further action would do more harm than good.

According to NOAA, less than [10.6 meters] 35 feet of gear remains on the horse, with all wraps from the left pectoral flipper removed, no potential for wraps to the tail, and little drag remaining. Although there is no way of knowing whether the animal will live or die, its chances have greatly improved. Thank you to all who contributed to the campaign and for the important roles you all performed.

Mariners are advised to keep a close eye for whales in distress and not to enter the water or attempt to disentangle the whale themselves if they see one. Maintain a secure distance of at least 90 meters (300 feet) and call the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at 1-888 256-9840 or radio the US Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16 for assistance.

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