New Brunswick

Minke whale freed from fishing gear in Bay of Fundy

A whale-watching excursion turned into a rescue operation near Blacks Harbour on Monday.

Whale-watching tour spotted young whale that appeared tethered to ocean floor near Blacks Harbour

A line can be seen extending downward from an entangled minke whale in the Bay of Fundy. (Submitted by Quoddy Link Marine)

A whale-watching excursion turned into a rescue operation near Blacks Harbour on Monday.

It had been a pretty disappointing day on the water for 30 or so hopeful whale watchers on a Quoddy Link Marine tour - not a whale to be seen in two hours on the water.

But then naturalists on board suddenly spotted a young minke whale and as they got closer they noticed it was in some distress, tangled in ropes.

"Immediately we noticed that the behaviour was odd," said naturalist Danielle Dion. "it was a young whale and when he was surfacing he was just bringing the front of his head, which is called his rostrum, out of the water, but he wasn't lolling the way a typical whale did.

"But we weren't positive that anything was wrong," said Dion. "It was a young whale. We weren't sure if he was just being curious.

"It wasn't until we got closer that we were able to confirm and see the line in the water.'

The rope was around the lower jaw of the minke and then extending straight down in the water.

Minke whales grow up to nine metres in length and weigh up to 10 tonnes. They can dive up to 25 minutes without surfacing.

The line in the minke whale's mouth can be see extending toward the lower lefthand corner of this photograph. (Submitted by Quoddy Link Marine)
"He was either anchored to the ocean floor or towing something incredibly heavy," said Dion. "It might have been lobster gear. We're not sure."

The whale was "struggling to get to the surface to breathe," said Dion.

"The only comforting fact, if I could take some comfort in it, was we knew it was high tide, so we knew the water wasn't going to be rising any more.

"So if it was at the extent of that rope, we knew that if he could breathe now, we have enough time until rescue gets there," she said.

Dion's group contacted the Marine Animal Response Society which contacted the Campobello Island whale rescue team.

It took about an hour for the rescue team to arrive on the scene, she said. Dion's group remained at the scene to observe the whale, and to mark the whales location for the rescuers, as fog was settling in.

The rescue itself took only about 10 minutes, said Dion, with a rescuer on the bow of a Zodiac using a sharp knife to cut through the fishing line in the the whale's mouth.

"They believe they cut the line as close as possible to where the line was in the whale's mouth, which means it would have dropped all the gear," she said. "Right after that happened, all we could see at the surface of the water are what are called 'fluke prints,' which are left by a whale moving its tale very quickly under the surface.

"That young whale got out of there as quickly as possible, free of the gear."


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