Freedom! Crew Rescues a Humpback Whale Trapped in Fishing Line for a Week

The 45-ton animal was caught in abandoned ‘ghost gear’ in Hawaii.
Feb 22, 2015·
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

It took helicopters, satellite tracking, multiple state and federal agencies, and a special pole, but rescuers were finally able to free a humpback whale that had been trapped in fishing equipment for a week in Hawaii.

Tour companies first reported spotting the entangled creature off the Big Island’s Hamakua Coast on Feb. 13, reported West Hawaii Today. With assistance from tour boats, helicopters, and numerous agencies, the West Hawaii Marine Mammal Response Network tagged the whale and monitored its conditions through satellite tracking. But the weather and rough waters didn’t help, so an initial rescue plan had to be scrapped.

“We decided to stand down and be patient and wait for the weather,” Ed Lyman of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary told the paper.

On Friday, the sanctuary deployed an inflatable craft to approach the whale. A team used a pole attached with a hook knife to cut hundreds of feet of fishing line.

“There was no sudden thrashing,” said Lyman. “It would trumpet blow, which is a sign of stress. It definitely wasn’t happy with us being there. It didn’t understand.”

The whale swam free after all the gear had been removed.

According to the sanctuary, fishing line entanglements make humpback whales vulnerable to infections and ship strikes. The animals could also starve or drown while trapped.

The incident was another example of “ghost fishing,” when abandoned nets and other gear continue to trap dolphins, seals, whales, and other marine life for decades. A network of divers has been collecting derelict nets and lines in oceans around the world to keep marine mammals out of harm’s way.