NOAA responders free entangled whale near Dutch Harbor
Responders for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) freed an entangled humpback whale early Saturday night in Unalaska Bay, near Dutch Harbor. The entangled whale was reported to the Alaska SeaLife Center last Monday by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers biologist.
"At that point, it was observed in Unalaska Bay off Needle Rock, and was reported to be floundering and trailing two buoys. It then moved offshore and out of sight," according to a NOAA news release.
The whale was seen again the following day anchored in one position. NOAA responded after it was clear the animal was immobilized and in a life-threatening situation.
"The whale had a tight wrap of line through the mouth and across the blowholes, as well as line and buoys around its tail, likely weighed down by a large cod pot," according to NOAA.
The crew described the whale as completely immobilized and attached as if it were a dog on a leash.
"This humpback was hogtied — the flukes were pulled under the body, connecting to the head with heavy line — and anchored to a pot at the ocean's bottom," said John Moran, a Juneau-based NOAA Fisheries humpback whale biologist.
The response team was made up of two vessels, and observation from underwater cameras and an overhead drone. "It took 12 hours, and over two days on the water to cut the lines binding the whale," according to NOAA.
“Suddenly there was a popping sound, and the gear floated to the top,” said Moran. “Apparently a cutting grapple hook had taken about an hour to work through the line and cut it loose. Then we saw the whale swimming freely and knew it was free of the entanglement.”
NOAA says the whale was in "good condition" at the time of its release and will very likely survive.
“Once we got the gear off, it took off, and was swimming freely and breathing normally,” said Moran.
If you see a marine mammal in distress, report it immediately to the NOAA Fisheries 24-hour Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 877-925-7773.
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