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Complicated, dangerous rescue frees young humpback on B.C.'s central coast

A tangled whale is shown in a handout photo. The young humpback whale is gouged and covered with bloody abrasions, but is expected to survive being snared in parts of unused marine equipment on British Columbia's central coast.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Fisheries and Oceans Canada
September 14, 2016 - 8:00 PM

BELLA BELLA, B.C. - A young humpback whale is gouged and covered with bloody abrasions, but is expected to survive being snared in parts of unused marine equipment on British Columbia's central coast.

Department of Fisheries marine mammal co-ordinator Paul Cottrell estimated the whale had only hours to live by the time he and a team of rescuers cut it free of ropes that barely allowed the animal to reach the surface of a remote bay two hours outside Bella Bella.

The roughly three-year-old, 10 or 11-metre humpback had been entangled for about six hours on Monday by the time experts arrived to carry out the dangerous rescue, Cottrell said.

He said the whale thrashed and fought throughout a six-hour procedure as the team tried to decide which ropes to cut so the snare of equipment would fall away, freeing the exhausted animal.

The final cuts, completed after dark and beneath the spotlights of a rescue barge and under constant threat of a wayward tail flip or descending pectoral fin, were a tremendous relief, Cottrell said.

He said if members of the Kitasoo First Nation and a company that owned the unused equipment had not made a timely call to the BC Marine Mammal Response Network hotline, the whale would probably not have survived.

"It was tremendous, everybody coming together to make sure this rescue had all the logistics in place," Cottrell said of a specialized Fisheries Department team, along with members of the First Nation and staff from an aquaculture company that owned the equipment the whale became caught in.

Cottrell said he believes a single rope connecting a heavy anchor to a floating bouy caused the near-fatal entanglement when the young whale snagged the line in its mouth as it foraged for food.

"(It) spiralled and got the rope wrapped around its body and through the mouth, through the baleen," he said, describing the clutter of rope that wrapped the whale from head to tail, gouging away chunks of skin and blubber as it struggled to stay at the surface to breathe.

Watching the humpback show a sudden burst of energy as it shed all the ropes offered rescuers optimism that the juvenile will survive, Cottrell said of the experience he called rewarding.

He urged the public to use the marine mammal reporting hotline if they see an animal that is dead or in trouble.

— By Beth Leighton in Vancouver

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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