An entangled baby humpback whale was rescued near Ucluelet on Sept. 9. (Photo courtesy of DFO)

Entangled humpback calf rescued off west coast of Vancouver Island

“These animals are massive, they’re powerful and it really is dangerous.”

A baby humpback is swimming freely once again after spending roughly four weeks entangled in prawn fishing gear.

A researcher with the Bamfield Marine Centre spotted the calf swimming with its mother near Folger Island in Barkley Sound on Sept. 9 and immediately reported it to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“The marine mammal rescue crew launched and spent six hours working to successfully disentangle the calf,” DFO spokesperson Lara Sloan told the Westerly News.

Within about five minutes of the report coming in, DFO Marine Mammal Coordinator Paul Cottrell was hopping on a float plane and he arrived at the scene less than two hours later, joining fishery officers to assess the situation, which looked grim.

“It basically had four wraps of rope around the head and the whole tail stock and fluke were a mass of ropes…It was just a rat’s nest. There was probably 20 wraps around the tail stock and then longitudinal with the fluke,” he said. “The calf was trumpet-blowing and showing signs of distress. It was obviously not comfortable and the ropes were already digging into both the fluke and the dorsal side. It was obviously painful for this poor calf.”

He added the rescue team had to be extra cautious because the young animal’s mother was swimming alongside, sometimes touching her calf, causing concern that she might become entangled as well or become aggressive.

“You really never know how the mom’s going to react when you’re having to get in close quarters with a calf and the calf’s in distress. It’s a highly unpredictable situation because sometimes moms can be quite aggressive,” he said. “So, this was one where we had to be extremely careful. The mom was stressed when the calf was stressed, so we had to disengage a number of times because she would do a high energy breach very close to us.”

He said the calf itself was an enormous 25-foot patient for the crew to work with and that tranquilizers are not used on whales due to concerns over dosage and potential drownings.

“These animals are massive, they’re powerful and it really is dangerous,” he said. “The mom is 45 feet long and a tremendous, powerful, animal that could create havoc if you’re not careful. It’s very nerve wracking, but yet you have to be patient, calm and collected.”

He said the six-hour rescue was full of “up and down” moments, but the end result “couldn’t have gone better,” and the calf showed high energy as it swam away after he had cut the last piece of rope off.

“The calf just took off like a shot…It’s really hard to describe the euphoria of all that effort coming together and being successful. There’s nothing like it for sure,” he said adding the calf joined its mom and swam off. “They started swimming together at the surface, which was cool to see.”

He said the crew watched the animal to confirm no entanglements remained.

“Any type of gear on an animal can kill it overtime because it works into the blubber and it can get infected and it’s just awful,” he said adding the calf suffered some superficial injuries, but will survive. “There’s going to be some scarring, but not life threatening at all…It’s great that this calf’s going to have a chance to hopefully grow up to be an adult animal that contributes to the population.”

He said the gear the calf had been wrapped up in was identified as recreational prawn gear that was set in Barkley Sound and the gear’s owner told DFO it had been missing for roughly four weeks.

“Any vertical line in the water is a potential entanglement situation,” Cottrell said adding the gear’s owner is not facing any charges as the gear was active and the entanglement accidental. “Our first pillar obviously is prevention, but if we have vertical lines in the water, we’re going to have the potential for entanglement, that’s just how it works unfortunately…We’re continually looking at that and implementing any management measures that may help.”

Surfrider Pacific Rim hosted an eight-day shoreline cleanup in the Broken Group Islands last month where 70 per cent of the debris collected came from the fishing and aquaculture industries, according to chapter manager Lilly Woodbury.

“While it’s incredible and fortunate that the Marine Mammal Rescue team was able to disentangle the humpback calf on Sept 9, it is not enough to address this issue by dealing with it reactively. We need to work together to address the root of the problem to prevent these tribulations from occurring in the first place,” Woodbury told the Westerly. “One of the ways this can be achieved is by expanding the scope of extended producer responsibility so that the manufacturers of fishing and aquaculture equipment are responsible for the entire life cycle of their products.”

Anyone who spots a marine mammal in distress must immediately report their sighting to DFO at 1-800-465-4336.



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

READ MORE: VIDEO: Rescued eagle released in Ucluelet

READ MORE: VIDEO: Rescued fur seal released in Ucluelet

READ MORE: Sea lion shot in Ucluelet euthanized at Vancouver Aquarium

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

Just Posted

MP Morrison ‘disappointed’ in six-week delay for wage subsidy support

Kootenay-Columbia MP says small businesses and employees need financial help now

Q&A: Interior Health CEO answers questions on COVID-19 response

Susan Brown, president and CEO of Interior Health, answers questions regarding COVID-19

Positivity rocks! Golden resident brings positivity to community through painted rocks.

Brandi Romano hand crafts the rocks with her kids as a distraction from COVID-19

6.5-magnitude earthquake in Idaho shakes the Kootenays

An earthquake was reportedly felt just before 5 p.m. throughout parts of B.C. and Alberta

Avalanche blocked Highway 1 yesterday

Highway 1 over Rogers Pass was closed for most of the day

‘We don’t need this right now’: B.C. man breaks up road rage incident

Two men were throwing punches on Tillicum Road in Saanich on Vancouver Island

‘We will get through this’: B.C. sees new COVID-19 death, but 57% have recovered

A total of 1,066 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

Canada’s 75% wage subsidy is coming, but not for several weeks: finance minister

Subsidy will cost Canada $71 billion, but push down cost of emergency benefit, Morneau said

COVID-19: ‘The Ballad of Bonnie Henry’ recorded and released

LISTEN: Quick turnaround for song penned by B.C. Order of Canada musician Phil Dwyer

Columbia Basin Trust announces $11.7 million in COVID-19 support funding

The funding will help businesses, First Nations, food banks, social service agencies and child care operators.

B.C. adding $300 to monthly income and disability assistance payments

‘Crisis supplement’ for COVID-19 for April, May and June

‘A matter of human decency’: Truckers’ union calls on gas stations, rest stops to fully re-open

Teamsters Canada wants feds, provinces to put pressure on facilities to re-open for transport workers

Migrant worker advocates blame feds, employers for COVID-19 outbreak at B.C. garden store

Migrant farm worker group calls on government for adequate health and safety requirements

‘There can be no ambiguity’: Travellers brought home to B.C. must self-isolate

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the mandatory isolation must be abided by

Most Read