Officials continue their search for a humpback whale that is believed to have been stuck in a gear of 50-60 feet long heavy gauge lines along with two plastic buoys. Response teams are eager to locate the animal in distress so that they can quickly cut it free.
The whale was last spotted near Hawaii’s smallest island, Niihau. The whale was first spotted by a tour boat captain who saw the whale trapped in the gear and immediately called for help. It would seem that this might not be the first case of animals getting trapped in fishing gear and that such a situation was anticipated. The captain was already taught and trained with regards to handling whale entanglement and hence was quick to act.
The whale entanglement response coordinator for Hawaiian Island’s Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ed Lyman said that the fishing gear is wrapped entirely around the whale’s body and even around its tail.
Lyman believes that the whale is an adult or sub adult humpback which measures almost 30-40 feet in length. Investigations have revealed that the buoys attached to the whale are probably from Alaska which means that whale carried it more than 2000 miles all the way to Hawaii.
According to locals, the sight of fishing gears trapping these whales is most common during winter and at least two or three of these cases surface. During the winters, these humpback whales migrate from Alaska to breed and give birth and this is when they often fall victim to the gear. Lyman confirmed the statement by adding that this was the 11th confirmed case of whale entanglement in Hawaii this winter.
The fishing gear is believed to be that used for fishing traps, but Lyman doubts that any of the traps are still attached to it. For that reason, any source of serious concern can be dispelled, but the response team still needs to find and free the whale immediately.
Humpback whales are an endangered species and were in the past almost driven to the point of extinction. Whaling and killing of the whales reached its peak, and their numbers dropped to a few hundred. In the 1950s, their numbers were as low as 1,400 that was until the international community called for a ban to placed on whaling. This led the whales to flourish in number, and their population grew to 21,000 in recent times.
Jean Souza, programs manager for the sanctuary, said that it is almost impossible to differentiate between real entanglements and false sightings. Many times in the past false claims have diverted attention from the animal itself which further increases the risk the animal is in. Witnesses often mistake every single whale they see as the whale in distress and call for help. For this reason, Lyman feels that they will have to be careful but the two large buoys on the whale’s back might reduce the chances of false sightings being reported.
Lyman further added that the animal was in poor condition with a bent over dorsal fin. The whale is already in a life threatening situation and if immediate action is not taken then another life might be lost in the waters of Hawaii.
Since these incidents occur every year, the sanctuary in Hawaii has had plenty of practice freeing entangled whales. So far the team has successfully freed 19 whales trapped in fishing gear. Lyman says that he has seen whales in far worse condition who survived, although it is still a matter of finding the whale in time, so the search for the entangled whale must continue.
By Hammad Ali