This is only one of the reasons why Lyman warns amateur rescuers to keep away from whales. Boaters equipped with knives and snorkeling outfits, Lyman said, might be tempted to "get close to the cut trailing gear."
That would be a mistake. Not only are snorkelers endangering their own lives, but most are able to cut off only the loose line, rather than the bit wrapped fast around the whale tails. It's harder for Lyman to find these whales, and impossible to add the buoys.
Even though this whale was trailing fishing line, his rescue wasn't so easy - he was wrapped in tough, heavy monofilament. With the longline digging into the whale's skin, Lyman and his colleagues couldn't risk adding buoys on the end of the hapless whale. (Imagine the garrote wire that knocks off Luca Brasi in "The Godfather.") Longline, moreover, is studded with fishing hooks, which the rescuers couldn't grab, especially not with a giant animal at the other end.
(Credit: E. Lyman/NOAA)