Coast Guard tries to help entangled whales

Posted: Monday, June 18, 2001

KODIAK (AP) -- The Coast Guard was forced to delay efforts to help two Humpback whales entangled in fishing gear in the Gulf of Alaska, the agency said Sunday.

A helicopter was carrying rescuers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Marine Fisheries Service on Saturday when an engine light indicated there was a fire. Even though there was no fire, rules require the aircraft return for repairs. The group was attempting to relocate the whales first spotted Friday.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Craig Macauley noticed the mother whale and calf during a helicopter training mission. He noticed a buoy and fishing line trailing from the whales. Both had entangled line in their mouths.

A NMFS vessel carrying a marine mammal response team from UAF and a NMFS fisheries biologist from Juneau arrived at the scene. The rescuers tried for several hours to free the whales of the fishing gear by using j-hook shaped cutting devices, but failed. Macauley said the mother whale was being very protective of her calf.

Rescuers were able to attach a radio transmitter to the line on one of the whales and will listen in while they try to come up with another rescue plan.

The Coast Guard's newest cutter, the 225-foot Spar, was headed from Marionette, Wisconsin, to its homeport in Kodiak when it was diverted to help in the rescue effort.

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