Because it's nice to have some good news around here once in a while, we're pleased to report that a team of rescuers and marine experts successfully disentangled a young humpback whale from a length of rope that was wrapped around the animal's face yesterday afternoon off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), aided by the U.S. Coast Guard, New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Conservation Police, and other area rescue services, helmed the difficult undertaking. The entangled whale was first spotted last November, with marine rescuers partly successful in removing some of the line from the animal's face. However, a "tight wrap of line" remained around the whale's upper jaw, and rescuers were unable to locate the whale again until this summer. Fourth of July boat traffic complicated matters for a bit, but when the whale resurfaced yesterday, rescuers knew they had to act fast.
The rope was tangled around sensitive parts of the animal's face like eye and blowhole; if rescuers had left the sea creature alone, "the whale would have died a slow and painful death," said David Morin, NOAA Fisheries Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator.
After a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter spotted the whale just after noon yesterday, rescuers carefully approached the whale, wielding a 30-foot pole with a hook-shaped knife at the end. Within minutes, the animal was successfully freed from the rope around its face.
Some of the rope was still caught in the whale's mouth, but officials are hopeful the whale will be able to shed this on its own over time.
A NOAA web article published yesterday gave more details on the operation. "Disentangling whales is dangerous for both whales and the people responding," the article says. "We only attempt it when the entanglement is life threatening and an expert evaluation deems there is at least some chance of success."
Given recent reports of dead whales washing up on beaches—a humpback whale was found dead in Far Rockaway in June—this rescue operation is a much-needed win for the whales.