A gray whale entangled in fishing gear swam in the Puget Sound for days until it was finally freed in an unusual chain of events, according to NOAA Fisheries.
A Washington State Ferries captain north of Seattle first spotted the gray whale with fishing gear trailing behind it on Friday. NOAA Fisheries activated its Large Whale Entanglement Response Network after receiving a report from the captain.
The weather on Friday was too windy for crews to respond, but they began a search on Saturday. When crews finally found the whale late in the day, they attached a satellite tracking buoy and photographed the whale underwater to better understand the entanglement.
"The fishing gear, which may have been from a crab trap, wound around the whale’s body," wrote NOAA Fisheries spokesman Micheal Milstein. "The line held one float tight to the left side of the whale’s mouth and then exited the right side of the whale’s mouth, trailing underneath the right flipper to a second float positioned just forward of its tail flukes.'"
In what Milstein describes an unusual turn of events, the tracking signals stopped overnight, suggesting the tracking buoy was being held underwater. Since they had no signal to follow, the response team on Sunday broadly searched areas where the whale had been seen on Saturday.
Later on Sunday, the owner of a vessel company had retrieved the tracking buoy with some of the original entangling gear after finding it caught on the rudder of a yacht that morning.
"Responders believe that the entangling fishing gear by chance caught on the rudder, which unfortunately pulled loose the telemetry buoy, and thankfully cut the entangling line and removed one of the floats from the fishing gear.," Milstein wrote.
"Based on the eyewitness account and the gear collected, the whale is apparently still carrying a single float from the remaining fishing gear on the left side of its head with fishing line exiting the right side of its mouth in a "clean bitter end" – meaning it can easily pass through the mouth and the baleen. This configuration commonly comes off over time – and is considered not life-threatening."
Team members are hoping to spot the whale again to check its health.
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