Tangled whale freed in Resurrection Bay

Posted: Friday, June 01, 2001

SEWARD -- A juvenile humpback whale, tangled in fishing gear in Resurrection Bay, was freed Wednesday afternoon by Alaska SeaLife Center staff with support from the U.S. Coast Guard, National Marine Fisheries Service and a Seward fisher.

On Tuesday, a Kenai Fjords Tour crew spotted the whale tangled in the fishing gear. They contacted the center and indicated that the whale did not appear to be in distress. The tour boat and other boat crews continued to watch the whale and report changes to the center.

On Wednesday morning, the whale appeared to be moving slowly. More fishing gear was visible. After SeaLife Center officials contacted NMFS, Dr. Natalie Noll, rehabilitation veterinarian, began the necessary work to organize the rescue effort.

The U.S. Coast Guard offered the use of crew and an inflatable boat. Seward fisher Andy Wilder provided the use of his 27-foot boat. Six SeaLife Center rehabilitation staff, along with a NMFS enforcement officer, left Seward's small boat harbor at 1 p.m. Wednesday to make an assessment of the whale's condition.

After traveling about 40 minutes, they spotted the whale in Emerald Cove near Fox Island. It moved slowly with longline buoys attached to it. The whale appeared to be resting. Outfitted in dry suits, SeaLife Center staffers Dennis Christen and Vic Aderholdt climbed aboard the Coast Guard boat and moved closer to the whale to prepare to implement the rescue plan.

A rope was trapped in the whale's mouth behind the baleen and wrapped like a harness around its upper torso and pectoral fins. Christen and Aderholdt grabbed the buoys to slow the whale. They worked themselves closer to the whale's head and struggled to free it. After about an hour, the men cut the line and the whale was freed.

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