Six-hour rescue mission frees humpback whale entangled in anchor line

Humpback tangled in rope

A 35-foot-long humpback whale became ensnared in an anchor line off the coast of Klemtu, B.C., on Monday—a situation that could have been deadly for the animal—but was cut free by local rescue crews over the course of six hours.

Rescuers believe the whale got its mouth caught on an anchor line that had been left in the water. Whales often swim in a spiral to try to escape when they feel tension from an underwater line, but in this case, the movement caused the rope to become wrapped around the whale’s body, cutting into its flesh.

Rope wrapped around and cutting whale's body
Photo by Philip Charles/
The anchor line was tightly wrapped around the humpback’s body, cutting into its flesh.

Employees of Marine Harvest, a local fish farm, saw the whale and contacted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, who sent staff researchers out to assess.

Paul Cottrell, the marine mammal coordinator who led the team, told Global News, “It was definitely a lethal situation.”

The rescue team had to find a way to cut the ropes off the panicked whale without hurting it more, a plan which took hours to execute. “We needed to know how the gear was wrapped through the whale’s mouth and around its body,” Cottrell told Global. “If we made the wrong cut, we may have freed the animal but it would still have gear on it.” The researchers were helped by members of the local Kitasoo First Nation, who used a drone to better assess how the whale was tangled. Marine Harvest lent the rescue team a barge to approach the whale and cut the ropes.

Whale's bloody tail
Photo by Philip Charles/
The whale had to drag weight and increase the rope tension each time it surfaced to breathe.

It was after dark when the team finally got the rope off of the whale. “It was an amazing feeling when we made that final cut and removed the rope,” said Cottrell.

This is the fifth whale rescue the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has conducted this year, a number that is worrying some, but that others believe is due to a resurgence of humpback populations. Cottrell told Global that if an entangled marine animal is reported right away, the success rate in rescuing it “is near 100 percent.”