July 30th, 2016. BONAVISTA, N.L. – An entangled humpback whale has been freed from roughly 3,660 metres of gillnet after towing a rescue boat around a bay on the northeast coast of Newfoundland for more than six kilometres.
Wayne Ledwell, head of Whale Release and Strandings in the province, described the release effort as a two-hour “sleigh ride” as the whale slowly hauled their inflatable boat around Bonavista Bay.
“It’s a constant battle against you and the gear, for the most part, and the whale,” Ledwell said Saturday in a phone interview. “Generally, when they’re moving like that, they don’t behave.”
Ledwell said the release group set out to help a fishing boat retrieve its gear on Friday.
He said after searching the bay for two hours, the team was about to give up when they saw a whale with a red buoy on its tail.
“The whale just kept going,” Ledwell said. “It was just motoring out the bay … It just wouldn’t stop.”
Ledwell said he brought his boat alongside the body of the whale and caught onto the net with a grappling hook with a buoy attached so they could keep track of the whale as it periodically dove underwater.
He said the release team hacked away at the net with hook knives during the “small windows of opportunity” where the whale would stay above water and give some slack.
“It can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Ledwell said. “A boat like we have, if (the gear) got caught around the engine, in a few seconds flat, the boat would be full of water and he could take us both down.”
He said after releasing the whale, the team returned the gear to the fisher, who caught about 225 kilograms of cod out of the nets the whale was towing.
“It was a good story for everybody,” Ledwell said.