A young humpback whale was saved from a dangerous entanglement near Port Hardy on Monday (Jan. 16).
A report came in Sunday morning to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), of the animal being spotted swimming in the Broughton Archipelago while wrapped in recreational prawn gear and showing signs of distress.
“The vessel that called it in was the Crown Royal and it got to us right away,” said Paul Cottrell, DFO marine mammals coordinator. “They called through Channel 16, it went to the whale desk, they called me, and I was able to scramble Port Hardy fishery officers - and also Jackie Hildering with the Marine Education and Research Society - they were able to get out across the straight and they were able to get their eye on the whale.”
The fishery officers are trained to use satellite tags, so they were able to get to the whale and place the tag on the trailing gear, and once that was done they were able to locate the whale.
“By that time it was dark so there was not enough time to do a rescue,” Cottrell said. “I arrived Sunday afternoon and it all kind of came together, we went out early Monday morning and I was tracking the satellite tag on the animal seeing where it was moving, and it was actually moving through Whales’ Passage, and it was clearly in distress.”
The animal was very exhausted, with all the gear wrapped around the tail, but also going through its mouth, basically hogtied.
“We went in and over a period of three hours we were able to make strategic cuts to remove all the gear off the tail and the mouth,” confirmed Cottrell. “It was amazing and just a great effort by the team - we were all exhausted but so happy that we could get all the gear off the animal - it showed a burst of energy once it was free and we watched it for another half an hour, so we’re really optimistic for a full recovery.”
The whale also hasn’t been identified with a number or a name yet.
“We haven’t matched it yet,” noted Cottrell, who said he’ll be checking with some of his other colleagues to confirm identification of the animal.
As for who owns the prawn gear, Cottrell said they’ve managed to track it to the Salish Sea region.
“We’re still working to identify the location and time it was last set.”
Finally, Cottrell requested that everyone who witnesses a marine mammal in distress to call their marine mammal incident hotline at 1-800-465-4336.
“I can’t stress this enough, this rescue was only successful because it was called in immediately.”