A whale got tangled in lobster gear off Grand Manan Island on Tuesday. By Wednesday he was untangled in what Mackie Greene of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team called a 'textbook rescue.'

Rescuers free entangled Humpback Whale
Oceans `It was one of the worst tangled up whales I'd ever seen'

Dec 20/07

    GRAND MANAN - Officials say a lobster fisherman played a crucial role saving an entangled humpback whale off Grand Marian.
   The 12-metre marine mammal finally swam free at about 10 o'clock Wednesday morning after spending the night tethered near Gannet Rock by lobster gear wrapped around it and anchored to the sea floor.
   The fisherman, whom officials declined to name, reported the whale tangled in his gear to the Grand Marian Fishermen's Association at about 1 p.m. Tuesday.
   However, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Southwest New Brunswick Area director Steve Wilson, and Mackie Greene of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, said that bad weather prevented a rescue crew from going out until Wednesday morning.
   Further, said Greene, who has seven years experience saving whales, the Cam pobello team had already put its rescue boat and gear away for the winter.
   So at 6 a.m., Fisheries Officers Joe Greenlaw and Cameron Ingersoll on Grand Marian put to sea a nine-metre (30-foot) Zodiac boat for Campobello.
   They picked up Greene and Scott Landry from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies on Cape Codd, Mass., who caught a flight from Boston to Bar Harbour, Maine, the night before, at 8 a.m.
   They arrived at Gannet Rock at 9 a.m., then Greene and Landry went to work. The job only took an hour once they got there.
   Greene later described it as a "textbook rescue" although they did break knives and equipment.
   Greene and Wilson said the fisherman did his part by reporting the incident immediately and staying with the animal. He used pictures supplied by the fishermen's association to identify it as a humpback.
   "He started hauling his gear when he realized there was a whale on the other end,'' Wilson said.
   "It was just a text-book case of exactly what you'd want the fisherman to do," Greene said.
   "He's as happy as we are that the whale is free," Greene said. "He didn't want to see a whale die in his gear:"
   "It's responsible fishermen like him who will save the whales and the industry."
   The line wrapped around the whale allowed enough slack so that it would not drown, so the rescuers decided to wait out the weather until the next morning.
   The rescuers found the whale about a mile from where the fisherman reported it the day before.
   "He was pretty played out," Greene said. "There was a lot of wind on Tuesday and he had a lot of abrasions on him. There was a lot of rope on him, so I think the 12-foot seas would have been chafing him all day long. He had some heavy wraps around his neck and flippers."

Although delayed by bad weather, the successful rescue effort only took about an hour. Freed whale thought to be Pez, a 30-foot immature male

    "When we got there it was one of the worst tangled up whales I'd ever seen;' he said. However,"being anchored made him easy to work."
   The whale was too stressed and tired to dive, so it stayed on the surface and swam in a fairly tight circle as the fisheries boat followed, trying to get close enough for the rescuers to reach out and cut the ropes.
   He and Wilson explained that a tangled whale will attempt to free itself, but usually just wraps the string of lobster traps or whatever around itself. "They sort of alligator-roll when they feel that tug,' Greene said.
   Greene said this whale had three or four wraps around its neck, seven or eight around its left flipper, a couple around its dorsal fin. Greene described the job as "just a lot of cutting- he was anchored, he couldn't get away from us :" Greene said the Zodiac, with a wheelhouse and a bit of heat, provided a good work platform - better than the whale rescue team's own open boat.
   "You grab onto a rope, you cut it," he said. It took about 35 cuts to free this whale.
   The humpback had rope burns and abrasions, and a possible injury over its right eye, but nothing life-threatening.
   As a species, humpbacks are not as close to extinction as the Atlantic right whale, but biologists still worry about them.
   The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies catalogues humpback whale sitings, posting pictures on its website to identify individual whales based on the distinctive markings on their fins and tails. The centre gives each whale a name.
   Greene said Landry tentatively identified the whale they freed Wednesday as Pez, a male three to five years old, not fully grown at 30-some feet in length. He said a full-grown humpback can reach 55 feet -16 and one-half metres.
   Officials should know later this week if the whale is Pez.
   Wilson said the right whales leave the Bay of Fundy before this, and most of the humpbacks should be gone.
   Greene said that non-breeding humpbacks might stay longer, especially with herring plentiful this year.
   He said they leave this region for breeding grounds off the Dominican Republic.
   Greene described it as dangerous work in the bone-chilling cold, trying to pull up close to an unhappy whale in a nine-metre boat." He was pretty nervous when we first got there," he said. "
   But humpbacks seem to be pretty good once you cut a line or two off of them and they feel that bit of pressure release. They calm right down and let you work on them.''
    He said it was hard going because the ropes were wound tightly and thickly around the whale, but he said the rescuers managed to cut off every single rope.
   He said the whale seemed fine as it swam away.
   Humpback whales, found in oceans and seas around the world, typically migrate up to 25,000 kilometres each year. There are an estimated 70,000 worldwide.
-with files from The Canadian Press