A humpback whale entangled in a thick rope that had cut into its body for several months was freed over the weekend by a team from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown.
The whale, which was freed Sunday afternoon, had a 1½-inch-diameter rope encircling its body like a collar, said Scott Landry, director of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response team at the Provincetown center.
“The entanglement was very lethal,” Landry said. “It’s the thickest rope we’ve seen on a whale in our area.”
As the whale grew, the rope had cut into its skin and blubber, leaving numerous wounds that pose a risk for infection. The rope had also been hindering the whale’s feeding ability because it could not fully open its throat, Landry said.
“It likely had been entangled for many months, based on how thin the whale was,” he added.
The whale was reported to the center by a commercial fisherman. The response team located it off the coast of Race Point Beach in Provincetown.
Members of the team used a grappling hook to attach 60 feet of rope to the entanglement already on the whale’s body. They put large buoys and a 15-foot inflatable boat on the other end of the rope, slowing the whale down as team members were pulled along in the boat, Landry said.
The team then attached a large hook-shaped knife to the end of a long pole to cut the entanglement.
“It can be a very dangerous process because the whale doesn’t know we’re trying to help it,” Landry said.
Even though the whale was freed, its survival remains uncertain.
“We disentangled it, but it’s not like bringing an animal to a veterinarian,” Landry said. “We made things better, and now we have to hope the whale can do the rest on its own.”
The center plans to monitor the whale, which is one of about 1,000 humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine, Landry said.
The humpback whale is listed as an endangered species by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency, however, has recently proposed removing the mammal from the list, to reflect its growing population.
The center receives about 20 to 25 reports of whale entanglements per year, Landry said.
“Most entanglements are probably not seen by people, though,” he added. “The ocean is simply too big.”
Whales probably become entangled when they are feeding or playing with marine debris, Landry said.
The center asked any mariners who see entangled whales, sea turtles, or other marine animals to call 1-800-900-3622.
“Don’t attempt to disentangle them yourself,” Landry said.