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Experts free whale entangled in fishing gear off Nanaimo

'It was a great day and a good effort from everyone'

Marine mammal experts with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were on the water off Nanaimo for more than eight hours Thursday to rescue a humpback whale reported entangled in fishing gear.

DFO co-ordinator Paul Cottrell said Thursday night the humpback had been freed after hours of “exhausting” work from two DFO rescue boats and the commercial fisher whose lines were being dragged by the whale.

Cottrell, who was aboard one of the boats, said experts were able to remove anchors, floats and more than 150 metres of line.

“It was a great day and a good effort from everyone to assist this whale,” said Cottrell after getting off the water about 7 p.m. Thursday.

Cottrell said the humpback was anchored to the ocean bottom by lines and heavy anchors, and would have likely lost all of its energy and drowned if responders didn’t act quickly. “The whale had multiple tail wraps” of line, he said.

“We’re all exhausted but it was a tremendous effort by the DFO Marine Mammal Response Unit, fisheries officers and the commercial fisherman who called it in right away,” said Cottrell.

The Marine Education and Research Society said observers were quick to report the humpback around Gabriola Island using an incident report hotline, 1-800-465-4336.

“Thank you to the many who made sure we were aware of this entanglement and to those who knew who to call,” the society said in a social media post.

Experts say disentanglement can be a dangerous exercise for both whale and rescuers. Humpbacks are often not at immediate risk of death, but the long-term impacts of fishing gear can kill them by causing infection or making it so they can’t feed or move properly.

The Marine Education and Research Society says scarring on humpbacks suggests about 50 per cent of all humpbacks have been entangled at some point. But just how many entangled whales die and sink to the bottom of the ocean is unknown.