A team of rescuers freed an entangled humpback whale as she swam with her young calf off the coast of Chatham on Monday.
The Center for Coastal Studies, a nonprofit based in Provincetown, reported that the humpback whale was with her offspring when she was spotted about 10 miles east of Chatham Harbor by the operators of a private vessel from the Chatham Bars Inn.
Scott Landry, the director of Marine Animal Entanglement Response at the Center for Coastal Studies, said the mother whale, named Thumper, was entangled in extremely heavy rope, which was probably offshore fishing gear.
Removing it was not easy, and the fact that she had a young calf at her side, who was only a few months old, made it even harder.
“Technically speaking, it was extremely difficult,” said Landry.
The thick rope that was wrapped around her body five times, “which likely hindered her from feeding,” officials from the Center for Coastal Studies said in a statement. “Both Thumper, and her calf, were in poor condition indicating that the mother had likely been entangled for months.”
The center’s Marine Animal Entanglement Response team responded from Provincetown in sea conditions that were “poor and worsening,” officials said. When they arrived at the scene, they found that Thumper was thin and pale and had wounds across her body, and her calf was smaller and thinner than other calves in the area, the statement said.
“Without intervention, the entanglement would have been lethal for both whales,” officials said.
The team ended up using a grappling hook outfitted with sharp blades that they threw into the entanglement to free the whale, officials said.
“Then the team deployed a long tether and large float to the grappling hook, which created enough drag to create cutting capability,” officials said in the statement. “It took a few throws to attach to the entanglement, but once in place the buoy went slack within seconds and when Thumper returned to the surface for air, the ropes wrapped around her body were gone and both the mother and calf swam off to the east.”
The Center for Coastal Studies later posted a video of the rescue operation on YouTube.
Landry expressed gratitude to the operators of the vessel from the Chatham Bars Inn for noticing the entangled humpback whale and reporting it.
“They knew what to do,” Landry said in a phone interview.
Whales that are entangled are at risk of drowning or suffering other injuries that could result in them bleeding to death or dying of an infection, he said.
“Plenty of whales die from entanglements,” said Landry. “It’s very pervasive. Despite efforts to make things better, we have not seen a reduction yet.
Landry said that even though Thumper is no longer wrapped up in rope, “she’s not out of the woods yet,” but she and her calf have a much better chance of survival.
The Center for Coastal Studies urges anyone to report any live or dead marine animal entanglements by calling their hotline at 800-900-3622.