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Alaska team rescues ‘hogtied’ humpback whale


Marine mammal responders use a knife to cut a rope entangling a humpback whale (Andy Dietrick / NOAA)
Marine mammal responders use a knife to cut a rope entangling a humpback whale (Andy Dietrick / NOAA)

A humpback whale has been freed from entanglement in Alaska after being “hog-tied” by what was thought to be fishing-line for at least five days.

The 10m male humpback, reckoned to be two years old, was first reported as caught up in line that ran through its mouth but also around the base of its tail on 1 April.

The entanglement occurred in Iliuliuk Bay near the city of Unalaska, the main population centre of the Aleutian Islands. Before an attempt could be made to free the whale it had to carefully monitored, this being carried out both from the air using a drone and under water using a pole-mounted GoPro camera.

Approaches had to be cautious because trapped and stressed whales can behave unpredictably.

The assessment and rescue was carried out by personnel from the USA’s National Large Whale Entanglement Network co-ordinated by NOAA Fisheries, which runs the state’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and bringing in experts from Alaska’s Department of Fish & Game and NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

Local community volunteers played their part from shore by monitoring the whale’s position, its intervals between surfacing to breathe (which did not appear abnormal) and its condition.


Some large whales that become entangled in active or ghost-fishing gear or marine debris are able to shed it unassisted, says NOAA Fisheries. “However, whales unable to free themselves can carry the entanglement for days, months or even years. 

“Entanglements often interfere with swimming, feeding, breathing and other vital functions. Severe entanglements can cause injuries that can result in death from infection, starvation, amputation (for example flippers or flukes), blood loss, strangulation or drowning.”

Fortunately there appears to have been no such negative outcome in this case. The rescue team was eventually able to cut the line in two places from a boat using a knife mounted on a pole, allowing the whale to free itself.

As far as the specialists could determine the young humpback appeared to be none the worse for its ordeal, apart from cuts around its tail.

Also read: Whale Rescue Could Result in $27000 Fine, Django and the Humpback Whale Rescue Part 2, Humpback Whale Lost in the Kakadu National Park

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