Nfld. & Labrador

Rescue crews can't find entangled humpback whale

Rescuers headed out Wednesday morning to free a whale tangled in fishing gear just outside St. John's Harbour, but they couldn't find it.

Whale disappeared after being seen heading towards Cape Spear but is likely to show up again

A whale rescue crew headed out to try to free a tangled humpback whale near the St. John's harbour Wednesday morning. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

A whale rescue team is back on shore after an unsuccessful attempt to free a humpback whale. 

The animal was spotted tangled in fishing gear and a red buoy, by a fishing vessel near St. John's Harbour on Wednesday morning.

The vessel Cape Chelsea followed the whale as it headed toward Cape Spear from where the crew first saw it, and called the Canadian Coast Guard. 

In turn, it contacted the Whale Release and Strandings Group and members of both groups headed to the area in small boats, with the coast guard carrying some of the release group's equipment. 

Brian Taylor took this video from on board a fishing vessel Wednesday morning, when the crew spotted this whale in the middle of St. John's harbour. (Submitted by Brian Taylor)

"We were out for two-and-a-half or three hours... lots of whales and dolphins around. So, we spent our time going around and checking out those animals to see if there was any gear on them, but we were unsuccessful," said Wayne Ledwell, an entanglement expert with the Whale Release and Strandings Group.

The vessel tracking the whale from St. John's harbour toward Cape Spear had lost sight of the animal as fog rolled in, decreasing the crew's visibility before Ledwell and his team could reach them.  

The rescuers were back on land by the afternoon, but Ledwell said the whale will likely turn up somewhere. 

"It's very common, especially ones that are towing gear, because the ocean is big and they can go anywhere. Sometimes we're lucky enough to catch up with them, but most of the times they'll show up again. This whale will show up again," he said.  

Wayne Ledwell is part of a rescue team which focuses on helping free entagled whales. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Ledwell said this is the sixth call about an entangled whale this year, but they only successfully freed one, near Cape Race last week. 

Don't try to do it yourself

Freeing a tangled whale is difficult work, and can take hours. 

"It's difficult to get all the gear off these animals because they control the interaction, versus ones that are anchored in fishing gear, more or less. They can't get away," Ledwell said.

If the whale is spotted at any point, Ledwell said to call 1-888-895-3003, the Coast Guard or Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"The wrong thing to do is try to take it off yourself, and the very, very wrong thing to do and the most dangerous thing to do, which people have gotten killed at, is actually getting in the water with these animals," he said.

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