British Columbia

'Just a fantastic feeling': Entangled humpback rescued off B.C. coast

Young whale foraging off Cortes Island was 'hogtied' by prawn gear

Humpback rescue

The young humpback was likely foraging when it became entangled in the prawn gear. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

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It took two-and-a-half hours of work, but marine mammal rescuers were elated this week after freeing a young humpback whale tangled in fishing gear off the B.C. coast.

The emaciated animal was discovered Tuesday afternoon, wrapped up in prawn gear near Cortes Island.

Paul Cottrell, the marine mammal coordinator for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, grabbed his disentanglement kit and hopped on a float plane to begin the rescue.

When he arrived, he saw the gear was wrapped around the animal's pectoral fins and tail flukes.

"It was actually hogtied," Cottrell said. "It was having trouble moving and was very agitated and trumpet blowing."

After surveying the animal with an underwater camera to determine the best way to remove the gear, the team made four cuts and the whale was loose within two-and-a-half hours.

"It was just fantastic. The animal showed a boost of energy when it realized it was free," Cottrell said.

The rescue was exhilarating for the humans involved, too.

"When we're able to get out there and successfully save an animal, there's nothing like it. It's just a fantastic feeling," Cottrell said.

He described the entanglement as an obvious accident, and said the gear had been laid just a couple of days before the rescue.

Wrapped around trap

"The animal was foraging at depth, and he got caught and wrapped around the trap, and ended up being mobile and towing the trap some distance," Cottrell said.

"It's a young animal, and it wasn't in great body condition, so this definitely didn't help."

Fisheries officials have seen a large number of humpbacks near the Discovery Islands and Campbell River this year, and there's also a lot of fishing gear in the water, according to Cottrell.

Another whale became entangled a few weeks ago, but rescuers were unable to locate it because a well-meaning recreational boater had cut off the float.

"That's why it's so important, if you do see an entangled animal, to give us a call, to stay back, not interact with the animal or his gear," Cottrell said.

Anyone who sees a whale or dolphin in distress should call the B.C. Marine Mammal Response Network at 1 800 465 4336.

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