Crews successfully disentangle distressed humpback whale in N.J. bay

U.S. Coast Guard photo.

U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Crews have successfully disentangled a humpback whale that got caught in material in waters off New Jersey.

The juvenile whale — estimated to be more than 30-feet-long — was freed Wednesday, months after the first reports of entanglement by a piece of gill net, a type of netting used in commercial fishing.

In early November, a disentanglement team from the non-profit Center for Coastal Studies was partially successful in cutting the line, although a tight wrap remained around the whale’s upper jaw.

They unsuccessfully tried again, and as the whale grew, the net wrapped around its mouth, forming a closed loop around its blowhole.

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“If left alone, the animal had no chance,” said David Morin, NOAA Fisheries Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator. “The whale would have died a slow and painful death.”

When the whale was spotted in the Raritan and Sandy Hook bays in recent days, numerous responders — including federal, state and local authorities and a disentanglement team from the Center for Coastal Studies — convened and formulated a plan to free the whale.

The team went out on the water on Wednesday, and even though officials felt that finding the whale would be difficult, it was spotted by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew about a half-hour after the search began.

Crews on the water then worked together to free the whale. They used a custom-designed hook-shaped knife, attached to a roughly 30-foot-long pole, to slice the piece of netting.

The whale was not harmed.

“The whale was resting in the middle of the shipping lanes at the entrance to New York Harbor. In many ways, this was more than we could have hoped for,” said Scott Landry of the Center for Coastal Services. “Some of the rope is still caught in the whale’s mouth, but removing that would be too dangerous for the whale. Given time, the whale should be able to shed that bit of rope.”

Officials ask the public to report sightings of entangled marine mammals and sea turtles to the NOAA hotline at (866) 755-6622.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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