Cruise-ship anchor chain cut in effort to free trapped whale near Juneau
A humpback whale entangled by a small cruise ship’s anchor chain near a Southeast Alaska fjord was apparently freed Sunday, after federal officials say responders were able to cut it free.
The 186-foot Wilderness Explorer had been moored overnight Saturday in Holkham Bay at the mouth of Tracy Arm, according to a statement from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, when a series of humpbacks began to feed near the vessel.
“One of these animals struck the vessel at 2:15 a.m. (Sunday) and became entangled in the anchor line,” NOAA officials wrote. “According to the bridge team, the chain was wrapped around a pectoral fin, and as the whale turned, became wrapped around the head and jaw.”
A report of the entangling reached NOAA at about 3 a.m. NOAA reached out to specialists on standby to respond to entangled animals, and members of the Alaska Whale Foundation arrived at the scene by mid-morning.
“Using a camera on the end of a long pole, the team assessed the entanglement and determined the anchor chain was wrapped around the lower jaw with only a half twist and 50 feet of chain between the animal and the vessel,” NOAA officials wrote.
The chain was cut at about 2 p.m., according to NOAA.
“The animal remained at the surface initially before submerging,” NOAA officials wrote. “Soon after a humpback believed to be the once-entangled whale was seen swimming rapidly away. They believe the whale was able to free itself.”
Officials at NOAA praised the crew of the Wilderness Explorer, operated by UnCruise Adventures, for their quick reporting of the entanglement -- and for not trying to release the whale themselves.
“Trying to free an entangled whale can be extremely dangerous for humans as well as the whale,” NOAA Fisheries regional administrator Jim Balsiger said in the statement.
The Wilderness Explorer headed to Petersburg to receive a new anchor and chain, and a salvage team was called to recover the one left in Holkham Bay.
NOAA asks anyone who sees whales or other marine mammals in distress to call its 24-hour stranding hotline at 877-925-7773.