The Marine Animal Entanglement Response team (MAER) at the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) freed a badly entangled humpback whale Saturday on Stellwagen Bank, five miles north of Provincetown. The whale was hogtied from mouth to tail and had sustained injuries from a circling white shark. After being freed by the team the whale sped off at a high rate of speed.
The entangled whale was discovered by CCS while conducting research on humpback whales. The whale was essentially immobile at the surface with rope through its mouth leading to multiple wraps of its tail. This entanglement configuration left the whale especially vulnerable since it could not fully use its tail for swimming or defense. The whale had a relatively large wound on its left flank.
The team began the disentanglement operation from aboard its 35 foot response vessel Ibis to ensure safety from the approximately 15 foot shark. The team was able to cut the rope from the mouth of the whale which gave the whale the ability to swim despite the multiple wraps of rope at the tail.
The shark eventually moved out of the area and the team deployed a small inflatable boat to finish the disentanglement. Using a work rope affixed to the entanglement of the whale, the team was able to pull up to the whale as it towed the inflatable boat behind it. Using a hook-shaped knife at the end of a long pole, the team made a series of cuts that freed the tail. Once freed the whale swam quickly out of the area.
Boaters are urged to report any entanglement sightings of whales, sea-turtles and other marine animals to the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Hotline (1-800-900-3622) or the US Coast Guard, and to stand by the animal at a safe distance until trained responders arrive.
CCS disentanglement work is supported by a grant from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MA-DMF). Support for the MAER program also comes from grants from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, the Pegasus Foundation, the Hermann Foundation, the Mary P. Dolciani Halloran Foundation, and contributions from CCS members. All disentanglement activities are conducted under a federal permit authorized by NOAA.