Whale freed of 100 pounds of entangled fishing gear

Posted: Sunday, June 10, 2001

SEWARD (AP) -- Several agencies joined together to free a juvenile humpback whale in Resurrection Bay of 100 pounds of entangled fishing gear.

Kenai Fjords Tours boat captain Tim Fleming said he came across the whale May 29. At the time, the whale was trailing a six-inch buoy and some fishing gear.

Officials at the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Alaska SeaLife Center decided to keep an eye on the whale after being notified by the tour business.

But the following day Fleming spotted the whale again and this time he was moving more slowly because he was even more loaded down with gear.

The rescue effort involved freeing the whale of two 24-inch buoys, a 6-inch buoy, a rusted crab pot, rope and an anchor and a chain, said Natalie Noll, Sealife Center rehabilitation coordinator.

Removing the gear from a moving whale proved to be challenging.

Vic Aderholt, SeaLife Center research coordinator and ASLC mammal curator Dennis Christen donned dry suits for the watery rescue.

Followed by the Coast Guard cutter Mustang, ASLC and NMFS personnel traveled to the site of the distressed whale onboard a 27-foot boat volunteered by local resident Andy Wilder.

Christen and three Coast Guard personnel moved in for a closer look aboard a Zodiak deployed from the Mustang.

Rope was protruding from each side of the whale's mouth.

''The idea was to cut one side (of the entangled gear) and the drag would pull the other side free,'' Adherholt said.

That didn't happen.

The whale became more active, Aderholt said. As it began to roll, the two grew concerned it would become more entangled. So they cut both sides of the line and all the humpback had to do was open its mouth wide to be free.

''She just took off. She knew she was free,'' Christen said.

Fleming said he thinks he spotted the whale recently feeding near Barwell Island.

''I think it's doing good,'' Fleming said.

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