DFO and Straitwatch team preparing for the disentanglement on Saturday, July 25. (Photo courtesy, Cetus Research and Conservation Society)

Crews work to free three humpback whales entangled near Vancouver Island

DFO crew starts disentangling process for two, before one slips away, looking for a third

Rescue teams have been working to free a pair of entangled humpback whales off Vancouver Island’s northeast coast, well keeping their eyes open following reports of a third.

Three cases of entangled humpbacks have been reported within the past four days, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has confirmed Tuesday.

The Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) identified two of the whales that were reported to the DFO as Checkmate and X-Ray.

RELATED: Entangled humpback whale found dead on remote Vancouver Island beach

A spokesperson for DFO, Lara Sloan, said in an e-mail, that they also received a report of a third humpback in the Central Coast area entangled in a seine net and mobile with a 100 feet of netting. This whale is yet to be relocated.

On Saturday, July 25, DFO was alerted about Checkmate, entangled in Sutil Channel near Quadra Island and a team was dispatched to rescue the whale. The team consists of members from DFO Marine Mammal Rescue, Conservation & Protection (C&P) Campbell River and Straitwatch.

The whale had a crab trap trailing close to it and a rope entangled through its pectoral fin. Since the surface was submerged underwater, the crew was unable to completely disentangle the whale. Given how “tight the rope was to the body of the whale,” the crew were not able to attach a satellite tag to track the whale before it slipped away.

While searching for Checkmate on July 26, DFO received another entanglement report of a humpback calf, X-Ray, that was travelling with its mother. The crew were able to remove 200 feet of rope from the calf.

As the weather deteriorated they attached a satellite tag to the remaining trailing gear to track the whale and continue disentangling it, said Sloan.

The crew worked to disentangle the whale for 10 hours from Salmon Point south of Campbell River to Kelsey Bay where it was last seen. The operation is still underway and the crew is out on the water with Port Hardy C&P (lead vessel) and MERS (support vessel).

In an update, Mark Dombowsky, executive director of Cetus Research and Conservation Society that runs the Straitwatch program, said that the crew have tracked X-Ray and are in the process of completing the disentangling today.

Checkmate still needs to be relocated to remove the remaining entangled gear.

Entanglements pose a serious danger to Humpbacks with over 50 percent of them physically scarred by it. Some instances have also been fatal for the whales. In April, the carcass of an entangled juvenile humpback whale washed ashore on a beach north of Kyuquot on Vancouver Island.

Citizen whale watchers who are able to spot Checkmate based on its markings, can report it to DFO at 1-800-465-4336. Entanglement cases and any marine mammal in distress can also be reported on the number.

Citizens are also advised not to attempt to remove any fishing gear or rope from the whale as it risks both human and whale safety. Professional training and equipment are needed to assess the entanglement.

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