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Entangled humpback whale freed from fishing line

    The rescue effort was coordinated by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and the NOAA Fisheries' Pacific Islands Regional Office.
    A camera on a pole with flying cutter knife shows the last cut to the line to free the whale.

The 45-foot, 45-ton humpback whale spotted swimming off the Big Island coast tangled in heavy gauge fishing line has been safely disentangled Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

According to NOAA, the whale had at least five wraps of heavy gauge line around the fluke.

The rescue effort was coordinated by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and the NOAA Fisheries’ Pacific Islands Regional Office.

The whale was first noticed approximately 45 miles northwest of Hilo late Feb. 13 afternoon. Due to lack of standby support, the remote location, and stormy weather conditions, no immediate response was possible, NOAA said. 

There were no reports of the whale being seen the following day, which West Hawaii Today reported was likely due to stormy conditions.

Federal officials reported seeing the tangled whale, now pulling a red buoy, moving south along the Kona Coast on Sunday.

Responders were able to put a satellite tag on the whale to track it. A Monday rescue effort was postponed when the whale moved on to an area with strong and treacherous ocean currents.

Between Tuesday and Thursday, the whale traveled clockwise around the Big Island and on was spotted off Maui’s south shore on Thursday evening.

Friday morning, a response team was assembled at Maalaea Harbor and departed on a rescue vessel.

Just before 8 a.m., the whale was spotted with another whale. Rescue officials used an inflatable boat to attach kegging buoys to the trailing line in order to slow the whale down and keep it at the surface so officials can make cuts to the line, NOAA said. 

After all the gear was removed from the whale, officials collected tissue samples from the animal to assess its health, NOAA said.

After confirming the whale is free from any grear, the rescue team returned to Maalaea Harbor at 2:30 p.m.

Authorities with the marine sanctuary said entanglements are dangerous for humpbacks, and could result in drowning, starvation, trauma, infections and increased susceptibility to ship strikes.

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