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A whale of a tale: Rescue effort frees humpback from anchored rope


BROOK COVE, N.L. — I received a phone call from my sister around 1 p.m. on Friday, June 1 informing me of a trapped humpback whale at Brook Cove, located between Little Heart's Ease and Caplin Cove.

Her question "Would I like to photograph the release of a whale by the Whale Release and Stranding crew?"

My wife and I sprang into action. I quickly gathered my camera and met her at the fisherman's wharf at Little Heart's Ease. While going out the harbour, we were told that a humpback had become trapped early that day in a mooring set to support a herring net at Brook Cove. At the time of the entanglement, there was no net. Somehow the whale had managed to snare itself and was now struggling to survive and free itself.

My sister explained that DFO was contacted about the whale. DFO then reported the entrapment to Wayne Ledwell of the Whale Release and Stranding group. The Whale Release and Stranding program is responsible for releasing hundreds of entangled whales around the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador.

When we turned the headland, an inflatable boat containing two individuals were speaking with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) officers. The smaller inflatable 16 foot boat allows the rescuers to get closer to the whale. We were to learn later that they had just arrived from St. John's and were assessing the situation to determine the best course of action.

Once the decision was made, they returned to the DFO boat to retrieve the gear that would best serve to free the humpback. A whale is not a small cooperative creature. It was a very large, unpredictable mammal that was frightened by the ropes that had suddenly prevented its movement.

The whale didn’t lie on the surface and wait for the ropes to be cut by its rescuers.

Rather it struggled to get free and reacted like any frightened creature. It remained underwater and only came to the surface when it needed to breathe. Later we were to learn that all of the recent rain water combined with the cloud cover made spotting the entangled ropes difficult to distinguish and cut.

Several attempts at hooking the rope failed. It appeared that the whale was doomed to drown. A couple of hours later, however, they were successful at hooking the rope with an anchor-like device with four extremely sharp blades attached. The rope was cut but still the whale was not completely free. A few more attempts and the rope was hooked again. This time they successfully sliced through the entangled rope. The whale reacted immediately to the release of pressure on its body by splashing and twisting on the surface.

Its fin appeared above the water and waved back and forth as if to say "thank-you." It slipped into the deeper waters of Southwest Arm and was surely thankful to all who helped free it from the predicament.

On behalf of the people of Southwest Arm, thanks to everyone involved in freeing this magnificent creature. To the individuals who called DFO, DFO for contacting the Whale Release and Stranding group, and to Dr. Wayne Ledwell and his team for successfully freeing the trapped humpback whale.

As I watched the whale swimming away my thoughts were of the movie “Free Willy” and the feeling that one gets when such a large mammal is free once again to roam the ocean.

To report a beached or entangled whale, dolphin, or sea turtle call toll-free 1-888-895-3003.

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