Whale Freed from Buoy Entanglement on 10/29/14

Pieter Folkens and members of the highly-trained Whale Entanglement Team approach an entangled humpback whale.

Monterey, CA – November 1, 2014. The Whale Entanglement Team (WET) disentangled another whale in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary on October 29, 2014. It is believed the whale had been entangled for three weeks. On October 4, 2014, a Waverider buoy placed approximately 25 nm west of Pt. Pinos/Monterey stopped transmitting. On Friday, October 24th, Shana Rae out of Santa Cruz was hired to check on the buoy. Arriving at the coordinates for the buoy’s mooring, Shana Rae found a whale entangled in line believed to be the mooring for the Waverider buoy. Shana Rae’s captain contacted the whale watching fleet over the radio to report the incident. The captain described the condition of the whale as “weak” and “struggling.” Fast Raft captain contacted Pieter Folkens, lead of WET, with the information.

Folkens spoke with the Shana Rae's captain who later sent three photos taken that afternoon, confirming the entanglement of a sub-adult humpback with significant damage to the flukes. A response was not mounted that day due to the late hour of the report and the distance offshore. Weather precluded any response over the weekend. On Wednesday, October 29th WET responded. Assets and personnel deployed included a HH-65 (Dolphin) helicopter out of USCG Air Station Alameda, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s 67-foot research vessel Fulmar and crew, NOAA Enforcement, a Waverider buoy representative, and eight members of the WET response team headed by Folkens. WET members are trained and respond under the auspices of NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.

WET analyzed the entanglement video captured on an underwater camera. The video revealed a severe tail entanglement at the fluke insertion with substantial necrotic tissue. Whale lice were present and the skin on the body indicated poor health overall. They devised a plan of action and executed it which involved two cuts on the line wrapped around whale. After the cuts were made the entanglement slipped off and the whale swam away. The team was estactic to see another whale freed from a life-threatening entanglement.

Peggy Stap, Director of Marine Life Studies and founding member of WET, explained, "The feeling of joy I felt the moment when the final cut of the line was made and the young whale swam free was something I could not put into words. It was amazing to know our efforts as a team gave this whale a renewed chance to be a productive member of the local population of endangered humpback whales.”

WET is a group of 30 plus unpaid professionals (volunteers) assembled and trained for the purpose of disentangling whales. Most of WET’s core members have direct affiliations with other conservation organizations.

Meet members of WET in person Saturday, November 15, 2014 in Monterey, California at special event, Saving Whales – One at a Time, with reception following presentation. Learn first hand about the level of skill and inter-agency collaboration needed to save whales from life-threatening entanglements.