Crews free grey whale entangled in fishing gear off Vancouver Island

Federal fisheries officers and scientists worked for hours over two days to free a young gray whale entangled in fishing gear.

Paul Cottrell, marine mammal co-ordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, called it a major victory when the 28-foot, 15-tonne whale slipped free Saturday off Brooks Peninsula on the north Island.

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“It was a real rat’s nest of gill netting, floats and lines wrapped tightly to the [tail and fluke],” Cottrell said in an interview. “So to see it finally swim away free … it was a great feeling.”

The whale was initially reported Thursday to DFO’s hotline by recreational fishers in Esperanza Inlet in Nootka Sound. Cottrell’s team was able to arrive quickly and remove some of the fishing gear and attach a satellite tag to the rest of it before the whale swam into open ocean as darkness fell.

On Saturday, the whale was picked up on satellite tracking near shore off Brooks Peninsula

Using an observation boat to launch a drone, Cottrell’s team in another vessel was able to slowly cut away the remaining gear. It took about four hours to methodically cut away the entanglement of lead lines, netting and cork floats.

A drone video showed the whale breaking free of the gear after a few last cuts.

“It’s the opposite of fishing … where you’re disappointed it got away,” said Cottrell. “In this case, freeing a whale that would have most likely died is a really great feeling. It was exhausting, but worth the efforts [of six crew].”

It’s the second successful disentanglement of the summer for Cottrell’s crew. They freed a humpback whale from fishing gear off Gabriola Island in July.

They’ve also received three other reports of tangled whales, but have yet to locate the animals.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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