MOKULEIA (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was a successful rescue. Wildlife experts have freed a trapped whale after a dramatic race against the setting sun.
The crew cut away the fishing line that threatened to kill the young humpback.
Within just two and a half hours from launching at the Haleiwa Boat Harbor Wednesday afternoon, rescuers came back in the evening - their mission accomplished.
"The whale almost rolled on its side when we approached and made its flipper visible to us and accessible to us so we were able to make the cuts to free the animal. So it definitely seemed like it was cooperating with our efforts," said Eric Roberts, one of the rescuers with the US Coast Guard.
It was a heartwarming moment that made a highly dangerous rescue much easier.
"It is very dangerous, and as the boat operator I have to be careful not only for the boat but for my people especially when they're hanging over the side of the boat trying to get the knives close to the animal," said Chad Yoshinaga, one of the rescuers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Video taken from a helmet camera showed how rescuers tried to free the juvenile humpback. Both of its fins were tangled in rope from a crab cage.
The whale was trapped about a 1.5 miles offshore from the polo fields in Mokuleia.
Video from another camera placed on a long pole with a knife at the end shows how rescuers cut the 30 to 35 foot mammal loose.
"The knife is not sharp on the outside... it's sharp only on the inside so you can basically run this along the body of the animal, not cutting into it, hook.. grab the line and make the cuts without harming the animal," said Edward Lyman, NOAA Marine Mammal Rescue Coordinator.
The danger is its tail. One swing could be deadly.
"We work as far away from that as possible, of course we're trying to get within 15 feet, so any quick movement by the boat could startle the animal and they'd definitely swing and thrash around a bit," said Yoshinaga.
The team effort involved NOAA, the US Coast Guard, and state officers from the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE), which is part of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).
Rescuers say the collaboration helped them free the whale within just 30 minutes.
"When we did release it, it swam off rather well. As soon as we released it to swam off and took a couple of good strokes," said Yoshinaga.
This is the third whale rescue NOAA has performed this year.
DLNR says a boater spotted the trapped whale and called it in.
Because of the danger with freeing an entangled whale, NOAA says anyone who sees an entangled marine mammal should call NOAA's entanglement hotline at (888) 256-9840.
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