Video footage provided by DFO
A colossal humpback whale measuring roughly 15 metres long was rescued from peril on Sunday.
The whale was heavily entangled in commercial crab gear and was spotted in distress on June 28 by a recreational boater near Ucluelet who immediately reported the sighting to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
The call came in around 10 a.m. and DFOâ€™s Pacific Marine Mammal Coordinator Paul Cottrell contacted a crew from whale watching company Jamieâ€™s Whaling Station who kept their eyes on the whale while Cottrell and local DFO officers Denise Koshowski and Dan Smith got their gear together.
â€œIt was great that Jamieâ€™s Whaling Station was able to keep the eye until we got out there…they were fantastic and we really appreciate their efforts,â€ Cottrell told the Westerly News.
â€œThatâ€™s the key; you have to have an eye on the animal…If they lose the eye then itâ€™s really difficult to find it again; itâ€™s a huge ocean out there.â€
Cottrellâ€™s team reached the whale around 1:30 p.m. and hooked buoys onto the entangled lines the animal was pulling to tire it out and prevent it from diving down.
â€œIt was a huge animal, one of the biggest weâ€™ve ever disentangled; it was 45-50 feet. It was massive,â€ Cottrell said.
He said it took roughly seven hours to tire the whale out enough for his team to get close to it.
â€œOnce we got up close to the animal, and we knew it was fairly exhausted, there was a whole bunch of weight pulling down the tail fluke so we couldnâ€™t get the tail fluke up high enough to use our specialized cutting knife to cut the last few wraps,â€ he said.
â€œWe had to really work hard and pull that tail up.â€
He said the whaleâ€™s tail had to be raised because algae bloom was restricting visibility in the water.
â€œYou have to make sure to make the right cut…If you make the wrong cut itâ€™s just going to be worse for the animal,â€ he said.
â€œWe were able to get the tail up where we could see where the ropes were and then make the right cuts. It was just fantastic.â€
Once freed from its entanglements, the whale swam away relieved.
â€œIt had a burst of energy and it was probably relieved not to have all that weight pulling it down,â€ Cottrell said.
He said it was the third successful humpback rescue his team has pulled off in the past two weeks after having gone roughly five months without one and he attributed the surge in rescues to aware boaters being out on the water.
â€œWeâ€™re successful because these people are making these quick calls and getting us involved right away,â€ he said.
â€œThe boating community out here is great and theyâ€™re doing that extra effort to make sure the right people are called. Itâ€™s wonderful and it makes our jobs so much easier.â€
Cottrell said DFO is aware of at least one other entangled whale off the West Coast and he urges anyone who sees this animal, or any marine mammal in distress, to immediately report their sighting to the Marine Mammal Hotline: 1-800-465-4336.
He added anyone who spots an entangled animal must stay a safe distance away and never try to disentangle it themselves.