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Rescues efforts fail to detangle two humpback whales trapped in ropes

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Two separate humpback whales have been spotted off the coast of Nova Scotia entangled in fishing lines.

Whale watchers saw the first whale off Cape Breton pulling a buoy with rope wrapped around its tail. After the whale was reported to the Marine Animal Response Society, fisheries officers tracked down the whale and attempted to detangle the whale without success.

The whale watchers last caught a glimpse of the humpback between Neil’s Cove and Wreck Cove, but rough waters have made it difficult to reach it again.

Andrew Reid, who’s a coordinator with the Marine Animal Response Society, says the rope could have serious health effects for the whale.

“It could start digging into the skin, cause infections,” Reid told the CBC. “Or it might just inhibit it from eating properly.”

If a whale is entangled for a long period of time, it can also lead to starvation, cause injury and obstruct breathing. It also makes the whale a target for ship collisions.

Meanwhile, the other entangled whale was seen near the Bay of Fundy. Officers attempted to free the whale for hours, but again, to no avail.

“He was obviously in distress because he was going down for 14 minutes on average,” Reid told the CBC. “When he blew out, exhaled, there was a loud what they call trumpeting, stressful noise.” 

Reid says the whale was suffering from some chaffage along his back where the rope was rubbing.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for whales to get trapped in fishing lines. Reid says that each year, he receives more around a dozen calls about entangled whales in the Maritimes.

This past February, a 45-tonne humpback tangled in hundreds of feet of fishing line in Hawaii was freed. Using a pole with a knife attached, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary was able to cut the heavy lines away from the whale.