DRAMATIC RESCUE FREES WHALE IN HOOD CANAL
A gray whale entangled in net, ropes, and an anchor for almost a week in Hood Canal was successfully freed by biologist at 1:20 PM on Sunday, 21 November 1994. Working for two days, biologists with Cascadia Research, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, used improvised tools and a quickly developed strategy to cut the whale free.
The whale had become entangled in a tribal gillnet near Hoodsport, in the southern part of Hood Canal, on Monday, 14 November. Shortly after the whale became entangled, the net was cut as close as possible to the thrashing whale by fisherpeople who feared for the safety of their boats and gear. The whale then slowly swam into deeper water trailing over 100 feet of net and line including an anchor of more than 130 lbs. Additional debris, including several crab pots also became attached to the gear as the whale swam.
On Thursday, 17 November, biologists with Cascadia Research searched the Hood Canal and found the whale, now about 15 miles north of where it at become entangled. The whale was in distress and was only able to swim slowly forward and appeared to struggle to surface to breath. A rescue attempt by biologists with all three groups, which are part of the Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network, was organized for Friday and succeeded in grappling the net and line. Darkness prevented the rescuers from being able to cut the gear free from the net. Gale force winds on Saturday made rescue efforts impossible on that day.
On Sunday, biologists working from four boats relocated the whale in Dabob Bay, in northern Hood Canal. Two rescuers in a 14' inflatable boat grappled the line attached to the whale and were towed along behind the whale while they attempted to cut the whale free. Using several quickly improvised tools, including a special hook with a blade on the inside attached to the end of a pole, they were able to cut all the visible major lines wrapped around the whale. Other boats, grappled the pieces of net and anchor trailing the whale. Final success was achieved when the whale, in a burst of energy and apparently sensing the change, dove for the bottom. Though this almost swamped one of the boats, it broke the final pieces of net that still held the whale to the rest of the gear.
The whale was followed for about an hour after being freed. It appeared healthy and was now diving normally.