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Wildlife Officials Come to a Young Humpback Whale’s Rescue in Alaska

A young humpback whale was hog-tied in fishing gear near Pleasant Island in Alaska’s Icy Strait, but wildlife officials were there to help, thanks to residents who reported the whale in distress near Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

The team, organized by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Large Whale Entanglement Response network and Glacier Bay National Park’s whale biologists, headed out aboard the inflatable vessel Talus to find the entangled whale. The rescue team also included a volunteer drone pilot, Sean Neilson, who captured drone footage of the situation as it evolved.

The whale was tangled up in a 300-pound crab pot and a 450-foot heavy duty line. As the footage shows, the line was attached from the whale’s mouth to its tail, making the whale swim in circles. The whale was essentially stuck in place, semi-anchored to the crab pot, which was connected to two buoys.

It was making 7-9-minute dives and surfacing for 30 seconds. The owner of the fishing equipment provided the team with key information about the gear, which helped to identify the safest course of action.

Video by NPS Volunteer Sean Neilson

“The whale had a loop of line through its mouth that led to a large, heavy glob of tangled lines at its tail. In effect, the whale was hog-tied, its body bent sharply to the side as it swam in a predictable clockwise circle each time it came up,” the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve explains on the NPS website. “The team worked with the whale all day until daylight was disappearing, using specialized tools to remove more of the gear while remaining at a distance from the whale.”

By the end of the day, the whale was completely freed from the fishing gear and able to swim away freely.

The whale experts were able to detect the whale’s markings and identify the whale as SEAK-5490, a juvenile whale of approximately three to four years old. This whale was measured last fall, measuring 32.5 feet (9.9 meters) in length. You can track the whale’s current position at happywhale.com.

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