Humpback rescued from fish farm ropes by fisheries officials
Whale was thrashing in the water with ropes cutting into its flesh for 12 hours, said fisheries official
A juvenile humpback whale was thrashing in the water north of Klemtu, B.C. yesterday for 12 hours, struggling to breathe as ropes from an empty aquaculture site cut into its flesh and blubber.
A tour guide discovered the entangled whale Monday morning and alerted the aquaculture company, Marine Harvest, and they in turn immediately called Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Paul Cottrell, DFO's marine mammal coordinator, caught the first plane from Vancouver to conduct the complicated rescue, with help from local fisheries officers, the company and members of the Kitasoo First Nation.
"It was quite disturbing," he said. "Lots of abrasions on the animal."
The team needed to cut at least four ropes to free the young whale, but that's not as quick and easy as it sounds.
The animal was about 10 metres long and in distress, struggling to reach the surface to breathe.
If they had cut the wrong rope, the whale could have been freed enough to swim away — but still caught in gear that could have dragged it to its death.
"We have to be so careful ... it's always dangerous," said Cottrell. "It could still die from even a single wrap of the jaw."
'Super feeling' of freedom
The Kitasoo First Nation Guardians used a drone to get a closer look at the young whale, so the team could assess which ropes needed to be cut.
The operation took six hours and a lot patience, said Cottrell.
From the company's barge, the team used specialized tools — including a long pole with a knife — to slice through the gear.
"It was about 12 hours. It was just trying to breathe there pulling all that weight up to the surface and every time the abrasion of the rope was digging into the skin and blubber," said Cottrell.
"It's just a super feeling when that animal is just released from all that gear, all the strain of the anchors and the weights pulling it down."
The animal has injuries, but Cottrell is hopeful it will recover and DFO plans to track its progress using photo identification.
Anyone who sees a marine mammal dead or in distress is asked to call the marine mammal incident reporting hotline at 1-800-465-4336.