Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


Department of Conservation staff received reports of another entangled humpback whale, just hours before freeing one off the Doubtless Bay coast, in the Far North.

Date:  29 September 2010

Department of Conservation staff received reports of another entangled humpback whale, just hours before freeing one off the Doubtless Bay coast, in the Far North.

Tourist boat operators in the Bay of Islands reported seeing a 12-15 metre humpback with short rope and a clear plastic buoy entangled near its mouth. The whale was last spotted at around 11am in the vicinity of Moturua Island. 

Biodiversity Programme Manager in the Bay of Islands, Adrian Walker, says that he is hopeful of being able to stage a rescue operation tomorrow morning. However, weather conditions are not looking favourable.

“There’s a north-easterly predicted for tomorrow morning with 15-20 knot winds, gusting to 35 knots in the afternoon, so it’s a 50/50 chance at present. I’ll make a final call at first light tomorrow,” said Mr Walker.

Mr Walker said tourist boat operators in the Bay of Islands had all been alerted of the situation and asked to report any sightings of the whale.

Should weather conditions be favourable, a spotter plane and 2 boats will head out at 7am to try to locate the whale. If they are able to successfully locate it, they will use a specially developed technique to try to free the whale.

A team of DOC staff involved in an operation earlier today to free a humpback whale with seine net wrapped around its head and tail, are poised to assist with the latest distressed marine mammal. Ingrid Visser from Orca Research will accompany the team in her boat to give assistance.

Mike Morrissey from Kaikoura Area Office is hading the team. Mike has had training and experience in a technique to free entangled marine mammals called ‘kegging.’ This technique was used today to free an entangled humpback whale with great success.

It involves hooking a grapnel hook onto debris wrapped around the whale, then attaching large windy buoys to hooks along a 50-metre rope. Once the buoys are attached, the boat follows the whale until it tires itself out. After the whale is sufficiently exhausted, staff will work along the rope until they are close enough to reach over with a long pole and curved knife to remove the debris.

Mr Walker says that humpback whales can weigh up to 50 tonnes, and will not be happy with being interfered with, so extreme caution is required.

“It’s essential staff are well trained and have the correct equipment. That’s why we are really fortunate that Mike is already here to lead the operation,” said Mr Walker.

Due to their inquisitive nature, it’s not unusual for humpback whales to become entangled in rope. Staff in Kaikoura have observed humpbacks playing with buoys like toys, pushing them underwater repeatedly to watch them pop back up.

In Western Australia, where there are frequent cases of whales becoming entangled in crayfish pots, the Western rock lobster council along with the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) and SeaNet Environmental Extension Service has even produced a code of practise for fishermen to reduce whale entanglements.

Guidelines include not setting lobster pots in clusters, and ensuring rope is taut. Also checking pots regularly and being especially vigilant during the months that whales are migrating through the area. 


Media release about first entangled humpback whale freed this afternoon



Carolyn Smith, Programme Manager, Community Relations, Kaitaia Area Office + 64 9 408 6190 or 0274 829 036

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