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Humpback freed from entanglement near Hull; search ongoing for other whale in grave danger

Rescuers used a knife attached to a 30-foot pole to cut fishing lines wrapped around the whale.

A humpback whale was freed after being tangled in fishing gear east of Hull on Sunday. Center for Coastal Studies

A rescue team successfully freed a young humpback whale Sunday that was badly entangled in fishing gear east of Hull. The operation was conducted by a special Marine Animal Entanglement Response team from the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS). 

The animal was first spotted in trouble by recreational fishermen Sunday morning, who then reported the sighting to the Coast Guard. The fishermen and members of the Coast Guard agreed to wait near the whale while the CCS prepped a response team. 

But the whale was still able to swim despite being ensnared in hundreds of feet of rope, according to the CCS. It dove away before the CCS team could reach its location. 

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The team then searched the area, and asked boaters nearby to keep an eye out. Four miles southeast of its initial location, people on a recreational vessel spotted the whale. 

The entanglement response team assessed the whale, which they found to be about 30 feet long. The animal had bitten down on a buoy line of fishing gear, twisting ropes around its head and tail. Even though it was badly tangled, the whale still swam away from the team at first. They used a grappling hook thrown into the fishing gear to keep it near the team’s small inflatable boat. 

The CCS team members then added large floats to the fishing gear, marking it even as it dove and slowing its swimming speed. The team pulled itself close to the whale at last, and used a knife attached to the end of a 30-foot pole to make a cut in the fishing lines. After that, the whale was freed in minutes and quickly sped away.  

Another whale in serious danger

Despite the successful operation, the CCS entanglement team is still concerned about another whale in desperate need of help. It is monitoring weather conditions southeast of Nantucket in the hopes of finding Snow Cone, an entangled North Atlantic right whale

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Snow Cone was last seen on Sept. 21 south of the island, but weather has not allowed rescue team members to conduct an extensive search since. She is believed to be swimming while entangled, and is not being tracked with any special equipment. 

Scientists with the New England Aquarium’s aerial survey team spotted Snow Cone last week and saw how entangled she was. They documented the entanglement and contacted the CCS, but a response team could not be immediately activated. 

The aquarium said that Snow Cone’s health had significantly deteriorated since she was last spotted in July in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada. This is at least Snow Cone’s fifth entanglement, and researchers believe she has weakened significantly because of the effort of swimming with the gear wrapped around her body. 

Snow Cone’s first calf was killed by a boat and her second calf, which was born while Snow Cone was entangled, has not been seen since April, according to the aquarium. 

“Eighteen months ago, there was hope that disentanglement efforts could remove enough of the gear and that would allow her to survive. Now, she’s covered in orange cyamids [whale lice]. She was moving so slowly, she couldn’t dive, she just sunk. She’s suffering. There is no longer hope for her survival,” New England Aquarium Research Assistant Sharon Hsu said in a statement. 

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