A humpback whale is seen just outside of Hartley Bay along the Great Bear Rainforest, B.C. Tuesday, Sept, 17, 2013. The head veterinarian at the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Centre and the Vancouver Aquarium says if animals are unable to forage with gear restricting either the mouth or impairing ability to dive and swim, then they will starve to death. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A humpback whale is seen just outside of Hartley Bay along the Great Bear Rainforest, B.C. Tuesday, Sept, 17, 2013. The head veterinarian at the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Centre and the Vancouver Aquarium says if animals are unable to forage with gear restricting either the mouth or impairing ability to dive and swim, then they will starve to death. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C. rescuers, experts concerned about condition of three entangled humpbacks

Humpbacks are classified as special concern under the Species at Risk Act

Marine mammal rescue groups and federal fisheries officials are not sure how much fishing gear three entangled humpback whales seen in the waters off the coast of British Columbia are still carrying, leaving experts worried.

Three humpback whales were found entangled in fishing gear in the last week of July and while rescue groups along with federal officials have managed to get some gear off of one of the animals, they are not sure how the other two are faring, said Paul Cottrell, the Pacific marine mammals co-ordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“We’re not fearing the worst, we’re hoping for the best, I guess. We’re just hoping that the animals get re-sighted and that we can find them. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

The rescuers were out on the eastern side of Vancouver Island last week where one of the whales named Checkmate has been seen hanging around, Cottrell said.

The whale has a trap and line running through its mouth and is trailing other gear. Rescuers also realized that someone had cut off the buoy making it difficult to spot the animal.

“Unfortunately (the gear) is quite close to the body,” he said, explaining that it makes it difficult to see.

They are hoping to use drones to confirm how much fishing gear it is carrying when they spot the humpback, he said.

For now, the animal has been “acting like a normal humpback” and been seen swimming and feeding, which Cottrell said is a good sign.

However, Joe Gaydos said when the gear goes through the mouth and baleen, which is the whale’s filtering teeth, then it is less likely to shed it off without help.

“The fact that the gear goes through the mouth doesn’t give me a lot of hope the gear will just come off on its own,” said the science director for the SeaDoc Society from the University of California, Davis.

“Those poor entangled whales. I’m not optimistic this will turn out well. Honestly, it makes me sad to think about.”

Humpbacks are classified as special concern under the Species at Risk Act. They number about 18,000 according to the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website.

Cottrell said rescuers haven’t spotted a whale that has a net over its head for about three weeks.

READ MORE: Crews work to free three humpback whales entangled near Vancouver Island

That animal, which has not yet been named, was last seen in the Central Coast, which Cottrell said is a large body of water with few boaters. He said that makes it even harder to know the condition of the animal.

Once the animal is seen and photographed, experts can assess how much gear is left and what the state of entanglement is, he said.

The key to helping these animals get free is locating them, Cottrell said.

If rescuers are called as soon as the animal is seen they can get there quickly and assess the situation, he said.

“If it’s even a couple hours later those animals can travel vast distances in a short amount of time.”

Gaydos said large whales like these can trail gear for a long time, leading to a slow and painful demise.

Occasionally they can shed it but at other times the first set of gear can attach to more, causing the animal to drag several metres of net and line, he added.

Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Centre and the Vancouver Aquarium, said if animals are unable to forage with gear restricting either the mouth or impairing ability to dive and swim, then they will starve to death.

“Some gear starts to cut into the tail, flippers or mouth. That is really painful,” he said.

“If it introduces bacteria or fungus into the bone or bloodstream that can cause a serious infection and that can also kill the animal. If there is a lot of gear, then the animal can drown. Unfortunately, all of these are horrible ways for a whale to die.”

The rescuers were able to get off more than 60 metres of fishing gear of a whale named X-ray.

Cottrell said that humpback was last seen travelling north along the east coast of Vancouver Island more than three weeks ago and rescuers are cautiously optimistic that it has been able to slip out of the rest of the gear.

Haulena said once the gear is on, it is very difficult for the animals to remove it although if the responders were lucky and cut just the right bit, the animal can slip off from the entanglement.

“Experienced people know where the best cuts can be made.”

Gaydos said with more fishing gear and a growing whale population, entanglements are not going away unless something is done.

“Scientists are working with the fishing community to help redesign the way the gear is set up. I’m hopeful this will help,” he said.

“In the meantime, we need to keep disentangling animals.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Whales

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

Voting is the number one, bare minimum way to have your voice heard by government. (File photo)
Jocelyn’s Jottings: Want to make change? Here are some suggestions

As a citizen you have a voice, you just have to know who to talk to

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Kimberly Proctor, 18, was murdered in 2010. Her family has spent many of the years since pushing for a law in her honour, that they say would help to prevent similar tragedies. (Courtesy of Jo-Anne Landolt)
Proposed law honouring murdered B.C. teen at a standstill, lacks government support

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has concerns with involuntary detainment portion of act

Sunnybank in Oliver. (Google Maps)
Sunnybank long-term care in Oliver reports third COVID-19 death

The facility currently has an outbreak with 35 cases attached to it

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital surgical unit

Despite 6 South being a surgical unit, RIH said surgeries are continuing at the hospital

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

Most Read