Fishing line left in the ocean entrapped an adult humpback whale this week, leaving the animal in distress. The entangled humpback was freed by a team of trained responders off Makena Beach on Jan. 12. The team found more than 285 feet of 3/8” braided line trailing from its mouth.
The whale was first reported Jan. 11 at 11:40am by the captain of the fishing vessel Layla. Rapid first response was mounted by the West Maui response team from the US Coast Guard and NOAA Office of Law Enforcement’s (OLE) patrol vessel Aloha Kai. By 1:35pm, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s response vessel Koholā arrived with a full response team.
They launched an inflatable and approached the whale to get a better assessment of the entanglement. The massive animal became quite active at that time. Once the animal calmed down, the team in the inflatable was able to attach a buoy halfway up the trailing gear and remove approximately 110 feet of line. The team tried to pull the remaining gear from the whale’s mouth, but was unsuccessful.
Sunset was approaching. Before stopping for the day, the team attached a tracking buoy to the remaining gear.
On Jan. 12 at 8:38am, the responders relocated the whale. Eventually, the team was able to get within 50 feet of the animal as it hung below the inflatable in a favorable position with its head oriented towards the surface.
Nearly two hours later, the team was able to pull the remaining gear from the animal’s mouth. On release, the animal immediately breached several times. The support boat attempted to stay with the animal as the approach team collected the gear. NOAA officials believe the animal has an “excellent chance” of recovery.
If you sight any marine mammal in distress, maintain 100 yards distance and please call the NOAA 24-hour hotline: 888-256-9840. If unable to call, radio the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF CH. 16.
Photo courtesy NOAA