Rescue groups and fisheries officials race to save entangled humpback whales

Rescue groups and fisheries officials race to save entangled humpback whales

VANCOUVER — Marine mammal rescue groups and federal fisheries officials are working against time in waters off the coast of British Columbia to save three humpback whales entangled in fishing gear.

The first entangled animal, named Checkmate, was seen Saturday off east Vancouver Island but rescuers couldn’t get close enough to help it, said Paul Cottrell, the Pacific marine mammals co-ordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Checkmate has a trap and line running through its mouth and is trailing other gear, he said.

When the whale was found, he said rescuers realized someone had cut off the buoy making it difficult to spot the animal and remove other gear.

The trap is “very close” to the body so it’s going to be “very difficult” to remove the rest of the gear, said Cottrell.

The other two entangled whales were sighted while rescuers were out looking for Checkmate.

“We get entanglements every year so it’s not atypical,” Cottrell said. “But it’s not usual to get so many at one time. It’s just been crazy.”

Fortunately, teams were able to remove a lot of the gear that the second whale, named X-ray, had been trailing, he said.

A satellite tag was also attached to X-ray so it could be relocated, and the rest of the gear could be removed but the team hasn’t seen the whale since.

“It’s very hard to follow the animals because they can move large distances and stay underwater for so long,” Cottrell explained.

The third yet-to-be-named whale seen near the Central Coast has netting around its head that Cottrell described as “problematic” because it makes it difficult for the animal to eat.

That whale is also trailing other gear, he said.

Once a whale gets entangled in one trap, it picks up other gear as it moves through the water column, he explained.

“It’s like if you step on gum, you’re going to pick up dirt and other stuff.”

Cottrell said these whales are “amazingly robust” and can carry gear for long periods of time, sometimes more than a year, depending on how it affects their foraging ability.

The whale with the net around its head and the one with the line running through its mouth are of greatest concern, he said.

British Columbia has seen a resurgence in humpback populations over the last few years with most of the animals coming from Hawaii to the inshore waters, said Cottrell.

“And really that’s a success story. But the downside is that we do have recreational commercial fisheries and we have a lot of lines in the water.”

Joe Gaydos said the humpback population is recovering so the entanglement of three animals is not going to affect overall numbers as it could for a species like the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

“That said, this is a huge animal welfare concern,” said the science director for the SeaDoc Society from the University of California, Davis.

“There is no denying that it is human caused injury and we know these animals can trail that gear for a long time causing prolonged suffering before death.”

Humpbacks are classified as special concern under the Species at Risk Act. They number about 18,000 according to the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website.

Cottrell said removing entangled fishing gear from whales is an exercise in caution and patience.

Experts use drones to assess the gear, entanglement and the best way to approach these animals to free them, he said.

Whales are huge and powerful and it can take a while to tire them out before getting close to them, he said adding they are usually agitated and uncomfortable because of the entanglement.

“They can’t do what they want to do, what they normally do and they’re not happy. There’s behavioural cues around trumpet blowing and they’ll do breaches, they’ll do tail slaps and all sorts of other things,” he said.

Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Centre and the Vancouver Aquarium, said it is important to catalogue the gear.

“So, we know what is affecting which whales so that we can help mitigate that in the future,” he said.

“I think it is a huge animal welfare concern as animals can suffer for a really long time and it is directly the result of human activity.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2020.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Wildlife

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Temporary COVID-19 testing sites coming to Wetaskiwin and Ponoka

The Wetaskiwin location will open Oct. 23, 2020 and the Ponoka location will open Oct. 29.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
City and County of Wetaskiwin reporting active cases

Both the City of Wetaskiwin and County of Wetaskiwin have active cases.

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Ryen Williams, 11, with a lost miniature horse at JJ Collett Oct. 23. Photo by Don Williams
UPDATE: Owners found

Father and son found him while out for a walk at JJ Collett

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Conservative member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner, left to right, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen arrive to hold a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No-confidence showdown over sweeping Tory motion on government handling of pandemic

The Conservative motion is to be put to a vote Monday and has the support of both the Bloc Québécois and NDP

From l-r., first lady Melania Trump, President Donald Trump, moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden on stage at the conclusion of the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Trump, Biden fight over the raging virus, climate and race

Republican president declared the virus, which killed more than 1,000 Americans on Thursday alone, will “go away.”

JJ Collett Natural Area Foundation held its AGM on Oct. 19 at the Ponoka Legion. (Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
De-listing Alberta parks creates ‘risk’ for coal mining: CPAWS

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society speaks at JJ Collett AGM

(File photo)
Ponoka’s seen rise in relationship ‘disharmony,’ domestic violence during COVID-19

While there has been an increase in files, not all have required charges to be laid

ACC President and CEO Ken Kobly spoke to Ponoka Chamber of Commerce members over Zoom on Oct. 20. (Image: screenshot)
Alberta chambers are ‘411’ to members, government: ACC president

Changes to government supports, second wave and snap election

Most Read