A young humpback whale in Massachusetts has been rescued after it became twisted in hundreds of feet of fishing rope, footage shows.
Fishermen spotted the 30-foot whale, east of Hull, Boston Harbor, twisted in the long fishing line, according to a press release from the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS).
The whale had bitten down on a buoy line that had then tangled around its tail and head.
Fishing-gear entanglement is a real threat to whales in oceans across the world. Being wrapped in such long rope can hinder the whale’s ability to swim and feed, and prevent them from migrating effectively. Rescue teams work to help entangled whales, but the procedure can be challenging.
The Marine Animal Entanglement Response (MAER) team and the CCS were alerted to free the whale. The US Coast Guard and the fishermen stayed in the area while rescue teams made their way, but soon after, the whale dove away.
Rescue teams began searching for the whale, before finding it southeast of where it was first spotted.
From a small inflatable boat, teams used a hook to grip around the fishing gear. From there, they found out where the tangling began and worked to remove it from the whale’s body.
The whale was still very active during the rescue, and the team had to work to slow it down, so they could effectively remove the rope.
Footage shows rescuers pulling the rope from the water while in the small inflatable boat. In underwater shots, the whale still has the rope wrapped around its tail.
Eventually, a single cut to the rope completely freed the whale, which swam away.
Entanglement is of particular threat to endangered species, such as the North Atlantic right whale. One female, known as Snow Cone, has been entangled in fishing gear ever since scientists first spotted her in March 2021.
At the time, rescuers managed to remove hundreds of feet from the rope to increase her chance of survival, but were not able to free her completely.
Despite this, the whale went on to give birth to a calf and was spotted multiple times since then, seemingly in good health.
But on September 22, scientists from the New England Aquarium in Boston spotted her off the coast of Nantucket in extremely poor condition.
Snow Cone was covered in lice, emaciated, and carrying even more fishing gear with her this time. Rescue teams have not found her since, due to poor weather conditions, and scientists fear that her death is all but certain.
The situation has renewed calls for the fishing industry to implement initiatives to prevent entanglement from happening to more whales.
In 2021, the NOAA proposed a strategy to implement ropeless fishing gear to reduce incidents. The body is also considering other initiatives such as speed restrictions on smaller fishing vessels.