Last August, AWF assisted the National Marine Fisheries Service with the most complex whale entanglement response in the history of the Alaska Stranding Response Network. In late August, an adult humpback whale became entangled in a gill gear near Petersburg, Alaska. The whale was tracked by attaching a satellite tag to the trailing gear, and over the next 14 days, the whale covered 435 nautical miles. This also allowed us to coordinate response efforts, resulting in an unprecedented level of gear readiness, attention to safety, and coordination between the various responder teams in the Alaskan panhandle.
This was a challenging response, for the whale was evasive and spent considerable time in low visibility glacier-fed waters. Although, we were able to remove only part of the gear from the animal, we are hopeful that it will be able to shed the remaining gear on its own. Lessons learned included the importance of taking photos during the initial assessment, as their may not be a afforded a second opportunity. This event also stressed the need for reliable rescue inflatables to be stationed throughout SE Alaska. And critically, there is a necessity to develop better tools for cutting through lead lines on gill nets. Ultimately, this was an extremely valuable learning experience for the Response Network that will no doubt contribute to the success of future events.
In Other News:
Ed Lyman, the Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator for The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary will be present in SE Alaska for the first part of this coming summer. Ed has been a tremendous help in training responders in the eastern North Pacific. Welcome back Ed & lets hope for a responsive (and uneventful!) summer.