Posted by: The ocean update | July 7, 2016

New sighting of entangled humpback whale off eastern Newfoundland (Canada)

The animal is entangled in fishing gear, and towing a medium-sized orange balloon about 100 metres behind itself.  Jeannine Winkle

The animal is entangled in fishing gear, and towing a medium-sized orange balloon about 100 metres behind itself.  Jeannine Winkle

July 7th, 2016 (Sue Bailey). JOHN’S, N.L. – There has been another sighting of a humpback dragging fishing gear off Newfoundland, and a whale rescuer is urging boaters to steer clear and call it in if they see it again.

Wayne Ledwell, head of Whale Release and Strandings in the province, said Thursday the humpback, first spotted by a tour boat Saturday off Mobile, N.L., south of St. John’s, was last reported Tuesday night farther north at Bonavista Bay.

The powerful creature was still making relatively fast headway as it pulled an orange fisherman’s buoy about 100 metres behind it and headed north. It could easily sink a small boat if its propeller got caught in that rope, Ledwell warned in an interview.

“When those whales get something to pull on, in no time, it will pull you under.

“You’re finished.”

The humpback could weigh around 50 tonnes and is believed to be towing a long rope and other gear.

A fisherman in Placentia Bay in southern Newfoundland reported losing 17 snow crab pots in late June that match what was seen on the whale, Ledwell said.

He’s asking anyone who sees the entangled humpback to stay back and call the rescue group at 1-888-895-3003.

Well-intentioned but misguided efforts to free the whale could make the situation worse, he stressed.

“A lot of people have seen videos of people, lay people, releasing whales and a lot of them are wrong, and a lot of them are dangerous.

“In most cases what they do is more harm to the whale than good.”

Ledwell hopes it may linger in a cove feeding for long enough that rescuers can get there. They would add more gear to its load to slow the humpback down for long enough that they could safely approach and cut it loose, he explained. Conditions would have to be ideal.

“We have to have nice weather to work on the whales because it’s too dangerous” in rough seas, Ledwell said. “You can’t work on them in the nighttime.”

The group, financed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, gets about 20 entanglement calls each year between May and October. Four have been reported so far this year.

Sometimes rescuers can help, other times the whale frees itself or dies, Ledwell said.

“Everything has to line up right and sometimes you just don’t get the animal.”

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