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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Crews disentangle whale

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

This adult female humpback whale with cord around its tail and fluke was first spotted Jan. 29. Crews were finally able to catch up with it again on Sunday and remove the debris that had cut into its flesh.

NOAA

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Emergency crews were able to disentangle an adult female humpback whale Sunday after it had been in Hawai'i waters for more than a month with loops of 1-inch line cutting into the flesh of its tail area.

A crew from the Hawaiian Islands Whale Disentanglement Network attached buoys to the trailing line to slow the whale down, and then cut more than 100 pounds of cord from the animal. The rope was wrapped around the base of its tail stock at the fluke.

"It had cut through the skin and into the blubber layer, and possibly into connective tissue and muscle," said David Schofield, Marine Mammal Response Network Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries.

To add to the excitement of working with a powerful adult whale, Schofield said the female was accompanied by "a couple of consorts," one of whom appeared to try to copulate with the female during the disentanglement operation.

The snagged whale had first been spotted Jan. 29 off the Big Island, but researchers were unable to find it again. The nonprofit Dolphin Institute reported sighting the whale again Sunday, and its whale research vessel stayed within sight of the whale until the disentanglement crew arrived.

It was the second disentanglement of the season and represents an "alarming trend" of marine mammals becoming entangled by marine debris.

"Although we have successdully disentangled these two whales, our focus should be on stopping the source of these entanglements marine debris," Schofield said in a statement.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.