Rescuers searching for Sitka humpback whale snagged in netting

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2001

SITKA (AP) -- National Marine Fisheries Service officials have searched in vain for three days for a humpback whale reported to be tangled in a net in Sitka Sound, the agency said.

''We're not sure if it's in the clear or not,'' said Bill McNally, of the marine fisheries Sitka office. ''Right now it's a standdown.''

A team conducted a five and a half hour search on Thursday, inspecting eight whales, before returning to Sitka, McNally said.

The whale was first reported by eyewitnesses in a sailboat on Tuesday who said it was trailing heavy green netting as long as 40 feet that had been tangled over its head, McNally said. The eyewitnesses followed the whale for a while until returning to Sitka.

Fisheries officials were never able to confirm whether the whale was snagged, McNally said. ''There's perhaps a good chance it got out of it too,'' he said.

A group with the National Park Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and private researchers were expected to travel to Sitka on Thursday, said Mike Payne, fisheries spokesman in Juneau.

The whale was seen traveling with at least one adult and trailing heavy green netting up to 40 feet long around its head and possibly its baleen, Payne said. A net tangled over the whale's baleen could make feeding difficult or impossible, threatening the survival of the mammal, he said.

The agency has asked tour boat operators to be on the lookout for the whale, McNally said.

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