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KETCHIKAN (KDN) — An area humpback whale had something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
On Tuesday, it was reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that there was a whale ensnared by lines off the coast of Prince of Wales Island.
By Thanksgiving, that whale was swimming free; back into the depths of the dark Southeast Alaska waters.
The incident occurred in Sarkar Cove, north of Naukati on Prince of Wales Island, and, according to a NOAA press release, Scott Van Valin, owner of Island Air Express and El Capitan Lodge, reported the distressed and tangled whale to NOAA upon encountering the situation Tuesday.
“The sub-adult humpback was entangled around the upper jaw in heavy gauge lines used for mooring docks. The entanglement included two buoys and a dense snarl of lines,” the release reads.
And come Wednesday, help was on the way.
Dr. Fred Sharpe, a biologist with the Alaska Whale Foundation, was flown to the scene on Wednesday morning, where he assessed the situation and evaluated options for response.
The team located the tangled whale, which had chaffing marks around its midsection and several lines covering the leading edge of the humpback’s blowhole, according to the NOAA release.
Upon approach, the team realized that the creature was still energetic with the potential to become agitated, adding to the complexity of the rescue procedure, although the large mammal eventually calmed enough to allow the rescuers to approach.
“Sharpe used a long pole to slip a hooked knife with line attached on the entangling lines. The team then backed off and by pulling on the line, the knife efficiently cut through the ensnaring gear,” the release reads. “The team made several cutting approaches before successfully removing all the gear.
“With a gentle role and swish of its tail, the whale swam completely free of the lines, and headed out to the mouth of the bay about 30 minutes before nightfall,” it adds.
According to the release, both Sharpe and Van Valin postponed their Thanksgiving plans to help rescue the tangled animal.
“We really had a great team,” Sharpe said. “We all worked together to carefully and safely approach the animal and remove the gear.”
Sadie Wright, acting large whale entanglement response coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Alaska regional office, commended the concerted effort to secure the release of the whale.
“We would like to commend Scott’s and Fred’s efforts during this event, which resulted in a safe, deliberate assessment and rescue,” Wright wrote.
And as folks across the country sat down to eat their Thanksgiving meals, one of Alaska’s whales swam free.