Humpback whale freed from net meant for escaped farm salmon in Hermitage Bay

Cooke Aquaculture has been asked to remove all nets being used to recapture farmed salmon that escaped in late July.

Cooke Aquaculture told to remove all nets being used to capture escaped farmed salmon, DFO says

A whale became entangled in a net on Tuesday morning that was put out to help catch up to 3,000 farmed salmon that escaped from the Cooke Aquaculture salmon farm in Hermitage Bay last month. The whale was later freed. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Cooke Aquaculture has been told to remove all nets being used to recapture escaped farm salmon after a humpback whale became entangled in one Tuesday morning.

"Earlier this morning, at approximately 11 a.m., a humpback whale became entangled in a gillnet set by Cooke Aquaculture to recapture salmon that recently escaped from the farm in the Hermitage Bay area," said Jen Rosa-Bian, a communications advisor with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The company was asked to remove the nets, which were put out to catch a reported 2,500 salmon that escaped the fish farm in late July, because there are several other whales in the area, Rosa-Bian said.

The whale was freed late Tuesday afternoon, according to DFO. The agency said no other information was available at the time.

Laverne Jackman points to where the whale was entangled in a gillnet Tuesday. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Laverne Jackman was talking her granddaughter for a walk along the beach line on Tuesday morning in Hardy's Cove, where she could see a boat putting out the nets.

In the same area where she and her granddaughter had watched whales feeding earlier in the day, according to Jackman, she saw a whale become tangled in one of the nets.

"The whale went into the net, and the next thing we saw was the whale swimming, entangled in the net, dragging the net and the buoys with it," she said.

"You'd think people would have more sense than to put a net where whales are feeding."

Cooke Aquaculture had previously told CBC on Tuesday it was working with the proper authorities.

Hardy's Cove, marked in yellow, is where the whale was reported to be caught in a net. Olive Cove, marked in red, is where the Cooke Aquaculture site is located. (Google Maps)

"Unfortunately, reports are that a whale has its tail tangled in a net," said Joel Richardson, Cooke Aquaculture's vice-president of public relations.

"We have been in contact with Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and will work with them on solutions. We have also advised the provincial department of FLR [Fisheries and Land Resources]."

DFO says conservation and protection officers are on site and that Whale Release and Strandings, a DFO-authorized group that helps disentangle sea life, is en route.

Whale 'in distress'

Jackman said the whale looked like it was unable to dive or feed because of the net.

She said her son and daughter-in-law saw the whale still entangled at about 12:30 p.m.

"They could hear sounds that the whale was making, moaning," said Jackman, who worries the whale will die.

"That's a very high price to pay for a few bloody salmon."

Those salmon, who escaped through holes that resulted from a net repair in late July, can be seen in the waters in the bay, she said.

"You can see salmon any time you look out," Jackman said.

"They're jumping, and if you go out in boat you can see them going in, through and under the boat. Hermitage harbour is full, and every little cove and bay around here is full."

DFO says attempts by untrained professionals to release a trapped marine mammal can be dangerous to that animal, even when the intent is to help.

"Marine mammal experts warn against people that are not trained getting involved because it increases the stress on the animals and creates a high risk of injury."

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With files from Mark Quinn