Scientists tracking entangled whale calf - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Scientists tracking entangled whale calf

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

LAHAINA, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Scientists still hope to rescue a humpback whale that is tangled in several hundred feet of rope, but the whale was too active Tuesday and Wednesday to attempt to cut the rope free.

"One of the reports tells us that the rope, or some of the rope, goes through the (whale's) mouth. So we have different categories of threats to the whale based on the entanglement. This is considered a life threatening entanglement because the rope is through the mouth," said David Schofield, a Marine Mammal Response Coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Schofield said the whale entanglement was first reported Tuesday. The whale was swimming off Lahaina, Maui.

A marine mammal response team based on Maui attached a telemetry buoy that enables scientists to track the whale by satellite. Since the buoy was attached the whale swam from waters off Maui to the North side of Lanai, then to Kahoolawe, and then back toward Maui.

Once it settles down, a NOAA disentanglement team will try to cut the rope free.

"There are special techniques that are used and some of these techniques are reminiscent of the old whaling days. They use a process called kegging. When they used to harpoon whales they would harpoon them and then try to weigh them down with kegs like you see on the movie jaws," Schofield said. "And they will use those polly balls to try to slow the whale down and then be able to work with it."

The population of Pacific humpback whales that travel between Hawaii and Alaska has been growing by an estimated 7% a year. But humpbacks are still an endangered species.

Saving this whale and others that get into trouble is important to the NOAA.

These rescue efforts can be dangerous but often successful.

Since 2003 NOAA has freed eleven whales that were tangled in rope.

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