Posted by: The ocean update | August 11, 2015

Humpback whale in Bay of Fundy getting aid to be freed from rope (Canada)

Fishing rope can be seen looped around the back of Lacuna near his dorsal fin. (Submitted by Shelley Lonergan)

Fishing rope can be seen looped around the back of Lacuna near his dorsal fin. (Submitted by Shelley Lonergan)

August 11th, 2015 (Yvonne Colbert). Technicians from Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts coming to rescue.

A team of whale disentanglement experts from the United States is making their annual trip to the Bay of Fundy later this month, hoping to spot and free Lacuna, a humpback whale that has been entangled in fishing lines since July.

Lacuna has been sighted yearly in the Bay of Fundy since 2003. On July 9, he was seen entangled in fishing gear and has since been spotted several times by companies that offer whale watching cruises.

“I’ve seen a single line of rope going around his tail stock just behind the dorsal fin and the rope appears to be going through his mouth,” said Shelley Lonergan, chief naturalist and research co-ordinator with Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises.

“There’s also a big coil of rope just behind his dorsal fin and … a line that leads back from his tail.”

Lonergan said the rope doesn’t seem to be impairing the whale’s ability to travel, but she’s not sure if he is able feed.

Staff members spot Lacuna on a regular basis and each time they contact the Marine Animal Response Society, which in turn alerts the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network volunteers on Campobello Island in New Brunswick.

‘Approach is really difficult’

“It’s frustrating. The teams have been over several times and they’ve tried to approach Lacuna but he just doesn’t realize that boat is trying to help him,” Lonergan said.

“Because the boat is approaching him, he sees that as, ‘What are you trying to do to me?’ and he goes for a deep dive and he stays down anywhere from 12 to 15 minutes and he comes up so far away, the approach is really difficult.”

Lonergan said a team of people who have developed whale disentanglement equipment and techniques from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass., are planning to travel to the Bay of Fundy later this month, as they do each year. They’ll look for Lacuna and help the whale if they find it.

Scott Landry, the director of marine animal entanglement response at the centre, said from the photographs he’s seen the whale appears to be OK despite the entanglement.

“Lacuna’s condition looks pretty good overall. His skin looks the proper colour,” he said. “His wounds that we can see, at least so far, are not terrible and so we do think that there is still time for Lacuna.”​

The non-profit organization’s website says since they started in 1984, they have freed at least 200 large whales and marine animals from entanglement.

Grappling hook attached to rope with buoy

Landry says the process may surprise some.

“The trick is to actually get more rope on Lacuna. We throw a grappling hook into the rope that’s caught on his body,” he said.

“That grappling hook has a 20-metre piece of rope with a buoy on the end and that will mark Lacuna, even when he goes down for a dive. Now that we sort of have a leash, we can pull up on that leash using a small inflatable boat and slow the whale down and keep it from diving.”

Crews will then cut away the lines with hook-shaped knives.

Last month, another whale was spotted off Ingonish in Cape Breton who was entangled in fishing gear. Teams were keeping an eye out for that animal as well.

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