A team of rescuers managed to free a humpback whale caught up in lobster gear in the Bay of Fundy on Tuesday.
A Maine-based whale watching boat first alerted the Campobello Whale Rescue Team of the whale in distress.
The Campobello team successfully disentangled the struggling leviathan, roughly 80 kilometres offshore in the Bay of Fundy, according to a release from the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
'He was definitely happy to be free, you could tell. He was really robust when he was coming up to the surface for that breath of air. It's a great feeling to see that.'- Mackie Green, rescuer
The rescued whale is familiar to the area and based on the unique scars and patterns on its fluke, the Center for Coastal Studies identified it as nine-year-old "Hangglide."
Mackie Green, who is with the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, said the whale was in distress when they arrived.
“[The whale] was getting tired out, with just the weight of all this gear, towing that around and trying to get to the surface. He was pretty distressed,” he said.
“He was tangled in two lobster trawls. I think he probably got tangled in the first one and was dragging it, and got tangled in the second one. So I would estimate about 60 lobster traps with the two lobster trawls that he was trying to tow around there.”
Since humpbacks must resurface to breathe, it would have not survived long on the sea floor.
“We’re lucky it was a clear day,” said Green. “If there had been bad weather, that whale could have easily drowned before we got to him.”
Boat served as flotation device
Since the rescue took place so far offshore, Greene asked the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for safety support. DFO sent two vessels to accompany the team's Zodiac.
In order to get close enough to disentangle Hangglide, the team attached their boat to the whale.
“We were in a Zodiac, a fast-rescue craft, and we have a lot of specialized tools that we use. We have a rope-jamming grapple. We actually grapple into the lobster gear that was trailing off the whale and pull that up and we actually tied that right to the boat and let the whale tow us around for a Nantucket sleigh ride,” said Green.
After four hours of painstaking work, the team was then able to cut the whale free.
“We finally cut him clear and he made a slow circle around us in the boat, and I don’t know if he was saying thank you or just thought he was still tangled up but he made a slow circle around our boast and then headed off to the east, toward Nova Scotia, at a pretty good clip,” said Green.
“He was definitely happy to be free, you could tell. He was really robust when he was coming to the surface for that breath of air. You know, it’s a great feeling to see that.”
“It’s extremely dangerous work, and these guys are all volunteers, they’re fishermen,” said Andrea Krebs, speaking for the IFAW.
Humpback whales are easily identified by their white belly, dark-coloured back and massive pectoral fins, which can measure up to 4.5 metres in length — the longest appendages in the animal kingdom.
According to DFO, the whales migrate through Canadian waters twice per year and are a common sight in Maritime waters during the summer.
Green said it's important to protect marine species.
“I just think it’s good stewardship and just being responsible. I think that’s the way people have to be nowadays. If you’re going to work in a marine environment, you’ve got to take care of it. It’s just a way of giving back a little bit,” he said.
If a distressed whale is spotted, IFAW has a toll-free number you can call: 1-866-567-6277.