Featured Image Credit: NOAA
By: Kira Krall
A small cruise ship was anchored in Holkham Bay, Alaska when a pod of humpback whales neared the boat while feeding on plankton and other small critters. Unfortunately, one pod member got too close for comfort and became entangled in the boat’s anchor line. The trapped whale was spotted at 2:15 A.M by the mate on watch and the crew immediately reported the entanglement to NOAA.
The Wilderness Explorer crew were instructed to wait for the experienced Alaska Large Whale Entanglement Response Network to arrive so they could assess the scene and free the whale with minimal risk. Fred Sharpe of the Alaska Whale Foundation joined the NOAA Response Network on the trek to Holkham Bay.
The response team found that the chain was wrapped around its lower jaw, lending credit to the theory that it had been feeding when it got itself into a little trouble. Thankfully the whale didn’t twist around too much, a common marine mammal entanglement response. They were confident that a simple cut of the anchor chain near the boat would free it. The whale dove and was seen again half a mile away, a good sign that the chain didn’t do any significant damage. The whale was tangled for 12 hours.
Overall, entanglements are on the rise. In 2016, 71 whales were reported entangled along the United States west coast alone. Active and derelict fishing gear is often the culprit. Of the 48 entanglements confirmed by NOAA in 2016, 29 whales were trapped in fishing gear.
The Wilderness Explorer is part of the UnCruise Adventures fleet. The company is dedicated to serving up adventure and “promoting environmental protection”, Alaska style. True to their mission, they reported the whale as soon as they realized it was trapped. They made their way back to port immediately after the whale was freed and will send a salvage crew to Holkham Bay to retrieve their anchor.