Crippled gray whale rescued on Vancouver Island

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Entangled and crippled by crab gear and toting an American transmitter buoy, a failing gray whale first seen near Makah Bay was rescued near Nitinat Gap about 40 miles southeast of Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

When last seen, the whale was heading back to Cape Flattery.

The whale was spotted pulling crab gear and crab floats in a dangling clump Sept. 4 by a biologist near Makah Bay, reported the Westerly News of British Columbia.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grappled a buoy and transmitter onto the whale but lost contact with it.

The whale slipped away, towing their buoy in addition to 15 feet of crab gear, lines and floats.

On Sept. 6, using VHF antennas, they relocated the whale, bound for the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Canada.

The next day, a whale was spotted off the Nitinat Gap, near Carmanah Point in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

“There was a gray whale towing a couple buoys. We figured it must be the same one,” Paul Cottrell, the Pacific marine mammal coordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, told the newspaper.

He leads the British Columbia Mammal Response Network and handles entanglements across the province.

Parks Canada boat kept an eye on the whale, and the fishers took Cottrell and his gear out to meet up with the whale.

The whale was about 25-30 feet long. Its tail stalk was wrapped tight with 10 loops of line, which was cutting into its blubber.

Whale lice quickly had seized the opportunity to latch onto the whale’s flesh, and the tail was infested — a sure sign of its poor condition, Cottrell said.

“There was little resistance, this whale was so exhausted . . . You could tell it was in very rough shape. It was very lethargic,” he said.

Cutting the loops without losing the grapple link to the whale was tricky and dangerous, requiring Cottrell to dig into the whale’s flesh and risk entanglement himself.

The injured whale started moving a few knots an hour from the sheer pain of being probed, but Cottrell managed to cut through all the loops.

“It was like instant relief. The whale showed a lot of energy,” he said.

Parks Canada followed the beast for an hour as it headed straight back for Cape Flattery and the U.S.

“It was wonderful,” Cottrell said. “We felt so relieved and happy and, of course, so exhausted.”

Last modified: September 13. 2013 9:27AM
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