Humpback Whale Disentangled Off Coast Of Chatham

David Creed •

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Another whale needed to be assisted in local waters this week. The Center For Coastal Studies’ Marine Animal Entanglement Response team (MAER) disentangled a humpback whale calf on Tuesday, June 14, in waters east of Chatham, MA. The calf, estimated to be a few months old and still dependent upon its mother, was sighted by Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC) staff who stood by as long as they could while the MAER team responded.

Amy Jenness, the director of communications and marketing for the MAER team, said in a statement once the team was on the scene, they made a series of cuts to the rope and eventually freed the calf by late afternoon. The entanglement injuries to the calf were extensive but its prognosis is now much better.
The rescue began on Tuesday morning when AWSC staff members came across a very small humpback whale calf swimming with black rope caught in its mouth, which led to a large jumble of rope around its tail. The whale had numerous abrasions across its body, but was able to swim and travel well. Once alerted, MAER made its way to the scene from Stellwagen Bank.
Jenness said they quickly realized that this was a dependent calf and that its mother was feeding with other whales nearby. After assessing the entanglement, the team understood that a few strategic cuts to the rope would free the whale if they could approach with the vessel in a way that did not provoke either the calf or the mother.

Using a long pole and hook-shaped knife, the team made a series of cuts to the entanglement. The calf dove and within a few moments, the rope floated to the surface and the calf was gear-free.

“Luckily we were able to retrieve the gear. The calf surfaced quickly a few minutes after Jenn made the cuts, I spotted the gear floating on the water after the calf went down again” Emily Kelly, a member of the MAER team, said.
Jenness said disentanglement of either a mother or calf can be especially challenging since response teams have to manage two whales at once, with either whale potentially reacting to the other.

“It's always unfortunate when any whale becomes entangled, but additionally heart wrenching when it's a young calf,” Jenn Tackaberry, a member of the MAER team, said. “Luckily we were able to remove the entangling line, giving it a second chance at life.”

Since 1984, the Center for Coastal Studies has freed more than 200 large whales and other marine animals from life threatening entanglements using techniques developed by staff. The Center for Coastal Studies is federally-authorized to perform large whale disentanglement under the authority of a permit issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

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