Humpback head
Image: Nadine Gibbs | ©

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


DOC is asking people to keep a lookout for a humpback whale entangled in line seen off the bottom of the South Island on Saturday 22 June.

Date:  24 June 2019

The whale was reported to DOC by a fishing vessel crew that saw it at Knife and Steel Harbour between Big River and Waitutu River. It had what is thought to be craypot line wrapped around its pectoral fin and tail stock and trailing 20 to 30 metres behind it.

The whale is moving and could travel up the west or east coast of the South Island.

Anyone who sees the entangled whale should call DOC’s 24-hour hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 36 24 68). DOC leads teams trained in disentangling whales using specialised equipment and, if there are further reported sightings, these trained personnel would attempt to disentangle the whale if possible.

No one should attempt to cut the rope off the whale themselves as this is very dangerous. People are also asked not to cut off line and floats attached to the whale as this would make it more difficult for the whale disentanglement team to carry out the procedures for cutting the rope from the whale.  

DOC ranger Mike Morrissey, who leads the South Island large whale disentanglement team, asks any boaties spotting the whale to not get close to it or do anything that would disturb or harass the whale.

“People seeing the whale can assist our rescue response by staying with the whale, monitoring it and advising of its exact location for our disentanglement team to get to it.

“The whale is moving and is not any immediate danger so urgent action isn’t required. The priority is people’s safety and ensuring disentanglement is carried out safely by our trained team.”

Mike thanked the fishing vessel crew for reporting the entangled whale and taking the right action in not cutting the faded pink float attached to the line. The crew also helpfully attached a second float that makes the whale more visible.

In late March a humpback whale entangled in fishing line was reported off the Otago coast. The whale was then seen off Kaikōura several days later and the whale disentanglement successfully cut the rope from the whale.

“It helped us considerably in removing the rope from that whale that no one had cut off the rope and float attached to it and we ask that no one does that with this latest entangled whale,” says Mike Morrissey.

Attempts to cut free entangled whales are only carried out when it is safe to do so. For safety, it requires sea conditions not being too rough and sufficient daylight hours as the procedures can take several hours and it’s not safe to disentangle whales in darkness. The whale disentanglement team initially fully assesses the situation to determine the safest and most appropriate course of action for attempting to cut free entangled whales.

Humpback whales migrate north through New Zealand waters at this time of year to tropical breeding grounds. 


The procedure for disentangling whales is called kegging and involves using grapnel hooks to attach rope and floats to material entangling a whale to slow it down and tire it out. When the whale is sufficiently exhausted, the disentanglement team edge along the rope until they are close enough to reach over with a long pole and a range of various knife blades to cut away the material entangling the whale.


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