Posted by: The ocean update | July 12, 2015

‘Hogtied’ humpback whale saved from a great white shark (Massachusetts, USA)

Whale-CCS-shark-MassachusettsJuly 12th, 2015 (Rosa Nguyen). Scientists rescued a humpback whale entangled in ropes and bitten by a great white shark as the shark prowled the waters beneath them Saturday.

While conducting research on gases exhaled by humpback whales, Center for Coastal Studies researchers discovered a young whale on Stellwagen Bank, a popular feeding ground for whales about 5 miles north of Provincetown. The whale, hogtied from mouth to tail, was immobile at the surface of the water and had sustained a large bite wound on its left flank from the shark.

Rope ran through the whale’s baleen and wrapped around its flukes, leaving it especially vulnerable, since it couldn’t fully use its tail for swimming or defense, CCS Executive Assistant Cathrine Macort said in a press release.

When Dr. Jooke Robbins found the whale floating with its back to the surface, she initially thought the creature was merely resting. But as she got closer, she saw the rope, the shark, and the whale’s bloodied dorsal fin.

“Because of the entanglement, the whale was unable to move normally, and was likely quite limited as to how it could thwart the shark,” she said in an email.

To ensure staff safety from the approximately 15-foot shark, the CCS’s Marine Animal Entanglement Response team began the disentanglement operation from aboard its 35-foot response vessel, IBIS, named after the first whale the organization freed in 1984.

The team used a hook-shaped knife connected to a long pole to cut the rope from the mouth of the whale, which allowed the creature, curled in the shape of the letter “C,” to correct its posture.

After the whale was able to return to a normal horizontal position, the shark lost interest and swam away, said Scott Landry, director of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response team.

The MAER team deployed a small inflatable boat to finish the disentanglement. Using a work rope affixed to whale’s entangled tail, the team was able to pull up to the mammal as it towed the inflatable boat behind. The team made a series of cuts that freed the tail, and the whale immediately swam out of the area.

“This whale is very lucky,” Landry said. “It probably would have been killed by the shark if we had not freed it.”

The team has saved more than sea creatures since 1984. But Saturday was “the first time in history [the team] was accompanied by a white shark,” he added.

The humpback whale marks the sixth whale to be freed out of 11 entanglements the CCS has identified this year. Of the 1,000 whales living on the Gulf of Maine, which stretches from Cape Cod to Canadian waters, 10 to 12 percent get entangled each year, Landry said.

The MAER team freed a minke whale on July 5, about 30 miles off Martha’s Vineyard, Landry said. In late April, the team disentangled a whale with “a perfect collar of rope” around its neck.

Spinnaker, an 11-year-old young adult female whale, was found dead one week after being freed from ropes in May, Landry said.

“Hopefully we’re going to see this whale mend,” he added. “But even after disentangling a whale, it’s not guaranteed to survive.”

Entanglement, Landry said, is one of the biggest threats facing whales today.

“Wherever you have rope and whales overlapping, that’s where the problem is,” he said.

New regulations reduce the number of buoy lines fishermen can use. The National Marine Fisheries Service is investigating the source of the ropes that ensnared the young whale, which Landry said were likely part of fishing gear.

Now that boating season is underway, Landry urges mariners to report any entanglement sightings of whales, sea-turtles and other marine animals to the US Coast Guard or the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Hotline at 1-800-900-3622.

Boaters should not attempt to disentangle animals on their own, and should stand by the animal at a safe distance until trained responders arrive, he said.




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