West Coast boaters are urged to join the search for an entangled humpback whale last seen off the coast of Tofino on Sunday.
Dr. Jim Darling of the Strawberry Isle Research Society spotted the whale Sunday morning and he, along with local whale watching vessels, stayed with the animal until Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Coast Guard officials arrived at the scene.
â€œJim (Darling) was out doing research and came across this humpback that has just a terrible entanglement,â€ DFO marine mammals coordinator Paul Cottrell told the Westerly.
â€œThe whale watching community was awesome; they kept their eye on the whale which is key.â€
The communityâ€™s efforts allowed Cottrellâ€™s team to locate the animal, which he said was in significant distress.
â€œItâ€™s really in tough shape, itâ€™s got a lot of rope around it and its right pectoral fin is almost off,â€ he said adding, â€œThe dorsal side has got a significant gouge out of it.â€
With no visual trailing or gear to grapple onto, Cottrell was unsure his team would be able to assist the whale but a Hail Mary rang true.
â€œI was surprised we were able to grapple on,â€ he said. â€œWe gave it a shot and luckily one of the grapples that I threw went right in the exact location and sank underneath the animal and hooked onto this huge rope ball.â€
Whales cannot be tranquilized because they could drown so the team worked for over two hours trying to tire the whale out, but just as the crew was about six metres away from the animal the grapple line broke, according to Cottrell.
â€œThe animal was pulling us into the open ocean,â€ he said. â€œUnfortunately our working line grapple broke where it was attached to the whale so we lost that connection and because it was getting too dark and too dangerous to continue trying to grapple it back we had to break it off Sunday evening.â€
Since this first effort, the West Coast has been assisting DFO and the Coast Guard search for the whale.
â€œThe whole community has been great trying to relocate this whale so weâ€™d be able to reengage,â€ Cottrell said.
â€œOne good thing that happened with our efforts is the gear thatâ€™s on the animal, this huge rope ball, has adjusted so itâ€™s now more visible on the side of the animal.â€
He added the ropeâ€™s repositioning also means a second grappling attempt would be easier.
Cottrell flew with Atleo Air this week in search of the whale and the whale watching community has kept an eye out, as has the Strawberry Isle Research Society.
Cottrell said barnacles on the rope suggest the whale has been entangled for some time and will likely not survive if not found.
â€œGiven the nature of the entanglement, itâ€™s almost certainly lethal. This animal is not going to swim away from this entanglement because itâ€™s right into the blubber,â€ he said.
â€œItâ€™s not in good shape at all.â€
He is grateful for the West Coastâ€™s willingness to assist.
â€œIt really helps when you have all these eyes and ears in Tofino that are so keen and looking out for this animal so hopefully we find him,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™re good to go as soon as we get the word that heâ€™s around.â€
Anyone who sees the whale is urged to report the sighting to 1-800-465-4336.
Boaters are advised to stay a safe distance from the animal but keep their eyes on it until DFO arrive.
â€œWe will do our best to get there as soon as possible to hopefully finish the job and allow this guy to live on,â€ Cottrell said.