A humpback whale is seen just outside of Hartley Bay along the Great Bear Rainforest, B.C. Tuesday, Sept, 17, 2013. The head veterinarian at the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Centre and the Vancouver Aquarium says if animals are unable to forage with gear restricting either the mouth or impairing ability to dive and swim, then they will starve to death. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A humpback whale is seen just outside of Hartley Bay along the Great Bear Rainforest, B.C. Tuesday, Sept, 17, 2013. The head veterinarian at the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Centre and the Vancouver Aquarium says if animals are unable to forage with gear restricting either the mouth or impairing ability to dive and swim, then they will starve to death. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C. rescuers, experts concerned about condition of three entangled humpbacks

Humpbacks are classified as special concern under the Species at Risk Act

Marine mammal rescue groups and federal fisheries officials are not sure how much fishing gear three entangled humpback whales seen in the waters off the coast of British Columbia are still carrying, leaving experts worried.

Three humpback whales were found entangled in fishing gear in the last week of July and while rescue groups along with federal officials have managed to get some gear off of one of the animals, they are not sure how the other two are faring, said Paul Cottrell, the Pacific marine mammals co-ordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“We’re not fearing the worst, we’re hoping for the best, I guess. We’re just hoping that the animals get re-sighted and that we can find them. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

The rescuers were out on the eastern side of Vancouver Island last week where one of the whales named Checkmate has been seen hanging around, Cottrell said.

The whale has a trap and line running through its mouth and is trailing other gear. Rescuers also realized that someone had cut off the buoy making it difficult to spot the animal.

“Unfortunately (the gear) is quite close to the body,” he said, explaining that it makes it difficult to see.

They are hoping to use drones to confirm how much fishing gear it is carrying when they spot the humpback, he said.

For now, the animal has been “acting like a normal humpback” and been seen swimming and feeding, which Cottrell said is a good sign.

However, Joe Gaydos said when the gear goes through the mouth and baleen, which is the whale’s filtering teeth, then it is less likely to shed it off without help.

“The fact that the gear goes through the mouth doesn’t give me a lot of hope the gear will just come off on its own,” said the science director for the SeaDoc Society from the University of California, Davis.

“Those poor entangled whales. I’m not optimistic this will turn out well. Honestly, it makes me sad to think about.”

Humpbacks are classified as special concern under the Species at Risk Act. They number about 18,000 according to the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website.

Cottrell said rescuers haven’t spotted a whale that has a net over its head for about three weeks.

READ MORE: Crews work to free three humpback whales entangled near Vancouver Island

That animal, which has not yet been named, was last seen in the Central Coast, which Cottrell said is a large body of water with few boaters. He said that makes it even harder to know the condition of the animal.

Once the animal is seen and photographed, experts can assess how much gear is left and what the state of entanglement is, he said.

The key to helping these animals get free is locating them, Cottrell said.

If rescuers are called as soon as the animal is seen they can get there quickly and assess the situation, he said.

“If it’s even a couple hours later those animals can travel vast distances in a short amount of time.”

Gaydos said large whales like these can trail gear for a long time, leading to a slow and painful demise.

Occasionally they can shed it but at other times the first set of gear can attach to more, causing the animal to drag several metres of net and line, he added.

Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Centre and the Vancouver Aquarium, said if animals are unable to forage with gear restricting either the mouth or impairing ability to dive and swim, then they will starve to death.

“Some gear starts to cut into the tail, flippers or mouth. That is really painful,” he said.

“If it introduces bacteria or fungus into the bone or bloodstream that can cause a serious infection and that can also kill the animal. If there is a lot of gear, then the animal can drown. Unfortunately, all of these are horrible ways for a whale to die.”

The rescuers were able to get off more than 60 metres of fishing gear of a whale named X-ray.

Cottrell said that humpback was last seen travelling north along the east coast of Vancouver Island more than three weeks ago and rescuers are cautiously optimistic that it has been able to slip out of the rest of the gear.

Haulena said once the gear is on, it is very difficult for the animals to remove it although if the responders were lucky and cut just the right bit, the animal can slip off from the entanglement.

“Experienced people know where the best cuts can be made.”

Gaydos said with more fishing gear and a growing whale population, entanglements are not going away unless something is done.

“Scientists are working with the fishing community to help redesign the way the gear is set up. I’m hopeful this will help,” he said.

“In the meantime, we need to keep disentangling animals.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Whales

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jaimie Davis won received a Northwest Community College President’s Art Award in 2018. This year, she won the Best Solopreneur Award from Small Business BC for her online shop Jada Creations. (Contributed photo/Northwest Community College)
Terrace artist wins provincial small business award

Jaimie Davis of Jada Creations won BC Small Business’ Best Solopreneur Award

Chera Bergen (left) with her sisters Hali and Dylan Ouellet (not in the picture) raised money through a bottle drive in Terrace to buy essential supplies for a homeless shelter. (Binny Paul/ Terrace Standard)
Terrace sisters’ recycle drive raises money for homeless shelter

With the $1175 raised, Chera, Hali and Dylan bought essential supplies for Ksan Society

A memorial march takes place along Highway 16 also known as Canada’s ‘Highway of Tears’ on national day of awareness of Murdered & Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Over five dozen people from nearby communities joined the march which began outside Terrace City Hall and ended at the memorial totem pole erected along Hwy 16, near Kitsumkalum. (Binny Paul/Terrace Standard)
‘City of Terrace can and should make spaces safer’: MMIWG activists

Activists called on governments to amplify safety net for women on national day of awareness of MMIWG

RCMP are reminding the public to be aware of their surroundings after a stabbing sent a man to hospital on May 4, 2021. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Terrace stabbing sends man to hospital

RCMP remind the public to be aware of surroundings

The construction site for the new Mills Memorial Hospital has been cleared. (Binny Paul/The Terrace Standard)
Bird nests key to decision to log hospital site in Terrace

Nests would have posed a risk of increasing costs

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The postponement of the event was put in place to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Junior A team Coquitlam Express is offering all Tri-City residents who get vaccinated against COVID-19 a free ticket to one of their games. (Facebook/Coquitlam Express)
B.C. hockey team offering free tickets to hometown fans who get the COVID-19 vaccine

‘We know the only way to get fans back is people getting vaccinated,’ says Express’ general manager Tali Campbell

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s latest COVID-19 restrictions cost thousands of service jobs

Part-time workers set back again by spike in virus spread

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Leaked report shows detailed B.C. COVID-19 data not being released to public

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Abbotsford school board trustee Phil Anderson has stepped down after sharing an offensive image on Facebook. (File photo)
Abbotsford trustee temporarily steps down after sharing post relating COVID masks to slavery

Phil Anderson to receive training to better understand provincial mask mandate after posting picture

Most Read