Whale Caught In Fishing Nets Was So Tangled She Couldn't Breathe

It took rescuers six hours to set her free.

Trying to free a young humpback whale tangled in fishing gear must have seemed like disarming a massive, thrashing time bomb.

When rescuers found the whale off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, earlier this week, the clock was already ticking.

The 32-foot-long whale was so tangled, she was having trouble getting to the surface to breathe. Her thrashing resulted in the ropes - leftovers from a commercial fishing site - cutting deeply into her flesh.

Amid that thrashing, panicked mess of netting and blood, officers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada had to cut four ropes. But they had to do it just right - cutting the wrong one first could have easily sent the whale into a death spiral.

"We needed to know how the gear was wrapped through the whale's mouth and around its body," Paul Cottrell, marine mammal coordinator at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, told Global News. "If we made the wrong cut, we may have freed the animal but it would still have gear on it. It was definitely a lethal situation."

After six hours, the rescue team managed to disarm this death trap - and watch the juvenile whale swim free.

And the grim of the hazards of ocean netting will remain etched into her flesh.

While this whale is expected to survive - marine experts will monitor her over the next few months - not every whale trapped in netting lives to tell the tale.

We've seen this happen too many times.

Earlier this year, an 80-foot-long blue whale had to be painstakingly freed from a deadly mess of crab traps off the coast of California.

The massive creatures, already classified as endangered, have come under increasing threat from fishing lines in recent years.

As for humpback whales, there's good and bad news.

The good: the population, once critically low, has grown in recent years, although, as noted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, estimates remain very rough.

The bad: there have been more entanglements than ever.


In fact, one marine expert has noted that nearly one in two humpback whales have been caught in fishing lines.

In one case earlier this summer, a humpback whale was freed after having been tangled for months - a testament to the slow, stranglehold fishing lines can put on the animals.

You can read more about the threats posed by entanglements here.

And if you live in British Columbia and see a whale in trouble, you can call the B.C. Marine Mammal Response Network at 800-465-4336.

In the U.S., you can call 877-SOS-Whale.