Allied Whale played key role in freeing Spinnaker

BAR HARBOR, MAINE — When the ship came upon a distressed 40-foot humpback whale wrapped in fishing gear, naturalists and interns with Allied Whale knew exactly what to do.

“I was able to take a picture of it with a long lens and then took a picture of that with my cell phone,” said Keri Smith, of Bar Harbor, a naturalist intern with College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale and the Bar Harbor Whale Watch. “It was a little difficult, but I guess it worked. The response was pretty rapid.”

Zach Klyver (‘94) — lead guide for Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. — said the whale was spotted by naturalists aboard the Atlanticat, a Bar Harbor Whale Watch excursion boat, on Sept. 12, some two miles north of Mount Desert Rock and about 22 miles south of Bar Harbor.

Smith took a photo of the distressed whale (above), took a photo of the photo with her cell phone, then shipped it from the boat to the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass. — a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which has the responsibility to investigate and free entangled whales.

It wasn’t the first time the whale — already known to local naturalists and whale watchers as Spinnaker — had gotten tangled in fishing gear off Mount Desert Island.

Spinnaker’s fluke had been photographed in 2004 by Allied Whale researchers, who pioneered the practice of photographing the distinguishing marks of whale fins and cataloguing them for identification. That photo bank has become an invaluable aid for research into the lives and habits of the sea beasts.

Researchers in Provincetown immediately recognized the whale as Spinnaker.

Naturalists aboard the Atlanticat spent much of the day Friday observing the distressed animal before having to return to the mainland. The whale was freed from the entanglement — a mix of gill netting and lobster gear — late Saturday afternoon by responders from Center for Coastal Studies assisted by the Maine Marine Patrol.

Klyver told the Portland Press Herald that rescuers working from boats alongside the whale had to cut away line that was wrapped around the whale some 30 times.

He said rescuers saw Spinnaker, believed to be about 11 years old, swim off quickly after being freed.

Smith, the intern, said the incident began when whale watchers had seen Spinnaker blowing in the distance and sailed up closer to take a look.

The whale didn’t appear to be in stress immediately, but “as we got closer we noticed there were four buoys (following) very close behind the tail,” Smith said.

It was rapidly apparent they were looking at an entangled whale.

“There were about 40 wraps of line around its caudal peduncle,” Smith said. “There were lines around its midsection, before the dorsal fin, around its caudal peduncle (the narrow section of the body located between the posterior of the dorsal and anal fins and caudal fin) and in its mouth.”

With light waning, naturalists and whale watchers had to make a call as to when to leave the whale. Some guests had to be back to meet cruise ships, and though “we have a moral obligation to stay with the whales” and most of the guests were supportive, some were grumbling about delays aboard the ship, Smith said.

In all, the ship stayed with the whale for more than two hours, Smith said, while the response team from Provincetown traveled to the scene. Members of the Maine Marine Patrol provided an initial response and began cutting some of the lines free.

Some of the line remained in the whale’s mouth as it swam away. Researchers said they will be on the lookout for Spinnaker and will photograph the animal again to check its health.

Tom Fernald, Assistant Stranding Coordinator for Allied Whale’s Marine Mammal Stranding Response Program, said the contraption that lured Spinnaker may have been gill netting — essentially long nets strung across an ocean bottom, held there by buoys that float up to the surface. Once snared in the gill netting, the whale probably tried to flee but became ensnared in additional lobstering gear, which would explain the buoys seen from the whale watch boat. Gill nets are illegal in some parts of the Atlantic.

Fernald said the photos sent from the boat to Provincetown to Bar Harbor were almost immediately recognizable as Spinnaker, who Fernald recalled was entangled in lines “in just about the same area” of water in 2009.

“I was pleased — amazed, really — the response was so quick,” Fernald said. “It was a quick, timely response.”

For a video of the rescue effort, click here.

College of the Atlantic News

IMG_4187 Researchers used an older Allied Whale photo of Spinnaker, above, to identify it after it became entangled in fishing gear in September, below. Allied Whale photos are used in a wide array of strandings, rescues and research on the massive sea mammals. / Allied Whale photos

IMG_4313(1)

Photos from intern set wheels in motion for multiagency rescue of entangled whale

BAR HARBOR, MAINE — When the ship came upon a distressed 40-foot humpback whale wrapped in fishing gear, naturalists and interns with Allied Whale knew exactly what to do.

“I was able to take a picture of it with a long lens and then took a picture of that with my cell phone,” said Keri Smith, of Bar Harbor, a naturalist intern with College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale and the Bar Harbor Whale Watch. “It was a little difficult, but I guess it worked. The response was pretty rapid.”

Zach…

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