The Department of Conservaton is appealing to the public to look out for a southern right whale (tohora) entangled in a craypot line following a sighting of it off the Otago coast on Saturday.

The Department of Conservation is appealing to the public to look out for a southern right whale (tohora) entangled in a craypot line following a sighting of it off the Otago coast on Saturday.

Anyone who sees this entangled southern right whale is asked to report it to the Department’s emergency number 0800 DOCHOTline – 0800 36 24 68. It is thought the whale is likely to be currently still off the Otago coast.

A professional photographer, Mark Stevenson, sighted the entangled whale off St Clair on Saturday morning. His close up photographs revealed that one was entangled.

DOC Coastal Otago Acting Area Manager, David Agnew, said the rope was wrapped around the whale’s tail fluke, body, head and also possibly its mouth. It is trailing a long length of rope that may be attached to a craypot.

“We want people to let us know if they see the entangled whale and we will attempt to disentangle it from the craypot line if we can.

“Anyone seeing the whale should not attempt to cut it free of the line themselves as it is dangerous.

“We have a specialist team of DOC staff trained in whale disentanglement techniques who will travel from Kaikoura to attempt to cut the line from the whale if it is seen and it is safe to do so.”

The procedure for cutting whales free can be slow and take several hours. For safety reasons it requires favourable sea conditions and sufficient daylight hours.

Mr Agnew said southern right whales come close to shore to more sheltered waters to breed during the winter.

“It is likely the rope is impeding the whale’s movements and it is only able to move slowly. This means it might be seen off the Otago coast in the coming days. It is likely to be distressed at being entangled and the rope could cause it injuries.”  

Background information

  • Southern right whales are listed as ‘nationally critical’ which means only a small population remains.
  • It is unusual for southern right whales to be entangled off the NZ coast as most recorded sightings are of humpbacks.
  • Earlier this month, a humpback whale was freed from rope entangling its tail in the Marlborough Sounds through the efforts of DOC’s specialist whale disentanglement team and later three mussel workers.
  • While entanglement within fishing gear is normally an issue for large whales such as humpbacks during their winter northward migration, smaller species such as dolphins and orca may also get entangled occasionally if they are being inquisitive or playful around floats. This present situation with the southern right whale highlights the need for all fishers, commercial and recreational alike, to minimise the amount of slack rope in the water at all times of the year.
  • There have been 17 instances of whales becoming entangled in fishing gear off the NZ coast since 2000. The majority of the entanglements have occurred off the Kaikoura coast, but there were two in Northland last year and one in the Marlborough Sounds earlier this month. They are usually humpbacks but there has been one orca whale and now a southern right whale.
  • Entanglement by fishing gear (or other ropes and human equipment) can cause injury or death for marine life.
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