Sesylia Hazen and Kamille Williams were near Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska when they heard something odd.
That’s when they spotted a humpback whale in the water near the Gustavus dock, according to a news release shared by the national park’s Facebook page on Oct. 27. The creature was trailing two buoys and could not move freely.
Hazen and Williams, local residents, immediately made “the dreaded call,” alerting National Park Service whale biologists of the situation, officials said of the Oct. 10 incident. Park staff, NPS experts and officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Alaska began working together, assessing the situation.
Rescuers said they “observed a humpback whale swimming in a tight clockwise circle that appeared to be intermittently anchored to the seafloor by what we later learned was a 300-pound crab pot with 450 feet of heavy duty line.”
The owner of the equipment collaborated with rescuers, saying the crab pot had gone missing sometime between Saturday, Oct. 7 and Sunday, Oct. 8, officials said in the release. By the time the whale was found, it had already been entangled for at least three days.
The day after discovering the entangled creature, rescuers got to work, attempting to free the humpback.
When they reached the whale, experts got a close up look at its limited mobility and noticed that it “was swimming in clockwise circles...making 7-9 minute dives and was at the surface for only about 30 seconds,” the rescuers said.
“The footage from the drone soon revealed why,” according to officials. “The whale had a loop of line through its mouth that led to a large, heavy glob of tangled lines at its tail. In effect, the whale was hog-tied, its body bent sharply to the side as it swam in a predictable clockwise circle each time it came up.”
After an hour trying to get close to the whale, rescuers were finally able to attempt the “complex and challenging” rescue by making cuts at the line with a specialized knife mounted on a long pole.
“The turning point came when we were able to cut the rope that ran through the whale’s mouth and was wrapped around its tail,” a whale biologist with Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve said in an Oct. 26 NOAA news release.
Rescuers worked all day and successfully freed all of the line from the whale’s tail and mouth, allowing it to swim away.
“The whale maintained its curved posture after the lines were cut, but biologists expect that it returned to a more normal form once it was able to move freely again,” rescuers said. “After the team made the last cut, the whale disappeared, which the team took as a good sign that it was no longer hampered by the lines and could rapidly swim away.”
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is northwest of Juneau.