'It looked like he was actually co-operating': Entangled orca rescued off Salt Spring Island

A transient killer whale was freed from fishing gear on Thursday by marine mammal rescue experts.

A transient killer whale was freed from fishing gear on Thursday by marine mammal rescue experts

An orca, similar to this one, was rescued off Salt Spring Island. (Valerie Shore/Shorelines Photography)

Keith Simpson was heading out fishing with his wife on Thursday morning when they spotted the killer whale from their boat between Vesuvius and Crofton.

The Salt Spring Island couple slowed down to snap a picture of the orca, but what they saw when they got a bit closer put their fishing trip on hold.

"We realized it wasn't actually going anywhere. It was just going around and around," Simpson said.

The whale was tangled in a fishing line for a prawn trap.

The couple called 911 and reached a marine rescue crew from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Simpson and his wife, Suzanne Ambers, were told to keep an eye on the whale and make sure other vessels kept their distance and did not put any stress on the male transient orca.

'They don't have a lot of time'

Within two hours, a rescue boat arrived to assess the situation. They estimated the whale had been stuck in the fishing gear for about five hours.

"These animals often, if they are entangled and there is weight on them, they don't have a lot of time before they can drown or get further damaged by the gear," said Paul Cottrell, the marine mammal coordinator for B.C. and Yukon.

The rescue crew managed to get close to the orca to loosen the line.

"The whale seemed to respond to them somehow," Simpson said. "From what I saw, it looked like he was actually co-operating with them."

The whale eventually slipped free of the fishing gear and swam away — with a bit of a salute to his rescuers.

"After the release, he took off and starting breaching and doing tail slaps, Cottrell said. "It was quite a show after."

Simpson and his wife are now handing out stickers at their sailing club with information on who to contact in case anyone else comes across a whale in distress.

The B.C. Marine Mammal Response Network can be reached at 1-800-465-4336.

About the Author

Megan Thomas

Reporter

Megan Thomas is a reporter for CBC in Victoria, B.C. She covers stories from around Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. Follow her on Twitter @meganTcbc.