Date: 04 April 2019
The whale had been seen by a University of Otago lecturer and students off the Otago coast last Thursday with line entangled around its body and tail and trailing a buoy. It was moving slowly north.
The entangled whale was spotted close to the Kaikōura coast yesterday and reported to the Department of Conservation by Whale Watch Kaikōura.
The specially-trained large whale disentanglement team spent about three hours working to free the whale with the last of the rope cut off about 7 pm. The team includes DOC rangers and community members, including Whale Watch Kaikōura and Dolphin Encounter staff.
DOC ranger Mike Morrissey said the whale was now likely to be continuing to move north on the annual humpback whale migration to tropical waters.
"The rope was tightly wound around its tail leaving extensive and deep cuts but they should heal."
DOC advises that anyone who sees an entangled whale should call DOC's 24-hour hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) and not attempt to cut the whale free themselves as it is dangerous.
DOC has trained large whale disentanglement teams, one in the North Island and the other in the South Island, that use specialised equipment to disentangle whales.
Mike said the whale had been very agitated and active while they worked to cut the rope from it which highlighted why it should be left to the trained and experienced disentanglement teams.
"The whale was thrashing about, rolling, and tail slapping and you have to know what you are doing. If you didn’t have experience and know what to expect it would be dangerous and people could get harmed."
Mike said the whale was calm and still once the last of the rope was cut from it.
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.
The procedure takes several hours with the priority being people's safety.
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 it’s not safe to disentangle whales in darkness.
In most cases entangled whales are not likely to be in any immediate risk of drowning and there is no urgency to cut away the rope entangling it.
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