Experts tracking entangled humpback whale off Nanaimo

Tangled whale being tracked

Marine mammal experts with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were on the water off Nanaimo on Thursday afternoon assessing the condition of a humpback whale entangled in fishing gear.

DFO co-ordinator Paul Cottrell said from one of the rescue boats that the humpback has not yet been identified, but there is a drone flying above to look at the entanglement and trying to get views of the whale’s flukes, which have distinct patterns and are like fingerprints.

“Right now, we are observing and looking at options,” Cottrell said. “We’re assessing how much gear is attached. It’s a process that takes time to make sure we don’t agitate the whale.”

Cottrell said DFO has a rescue boat with a whale expert and a support vessel tracking the whale. He said the commercial fisher whose lines are being dragged by the humpback is also assisting.

The Marine Education and Research Society said observers were quick to report the humpback using an incident report hotline, 1-800-465-4336.

“Thank you to the many who made sure we were aware of this entanglement and to those who knew who to call,” the society said in a social media post.

Experts say disentanglement can be a dangerous exercise for both whale and rescuers. Humpbacks are often not at immediate risk of death, but the long-term impacts of fishing gear can kill them by causing infection or making it so they can’t feed or move properly.

With the whale found, action may include attaching a tracking tag to the rope dragging behind the whale so that the whale can be found again if disentanglement will take longer than a day.

The Marine Education and Research Society says scarring on humpbacks suggest that about 50 per cent of all humpbacks have been entangled at some point. But just how many entangled whales die and sink to the bottom of the ocean is unknown.

More BC News