Successful disentanglement of a gray whale on 24 April 2020

An adult gray whale entangled in Dungeness crab line and gear was successfully freed off Port Angeles on Friday, 24 April 2020. The whale was originally reported that morning by personnel with the Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) who then stood by the whale along with officers from WDFW, until a rescue team could get there. Two researchers from Cascadia Research Collective (CRC) trained in disentanglement (John Calambokidis and Kiirsten Flynn) supported and coordinating with NOAA and SR3 began by documenting the nature and type of entanglement. They then deployed a satellite tracking buoy to mark the whale’s position and for tracking in case they were not able to free the whale. Once they understood how the whale was entangled, they made a cut to a key line coming from the mouth of the whale across the back and connecting to the trap gear below. Finally, they applied some gentle drag to pull the rest of the gear including the floats free from the whale. The whale appeared in good health and was followed for over an hour and appeared to be behaving normally once it was freed. Part of the exciting event was streamed live on KOMO and KING TV stations who had a helicopter circling high above (link to KING).

Entanglements have been a growing concern for whales (link to NOAA site) along the US West Coast. The response efforts are crucial to documenting the types of entanglement and gear involved and where possible rescue of the whale. Although any line or net in the water can entangle whales, research has shown that large whales are primarily caught in actively fished gear, as was the situation in this case. Critical to the success of this effort was the quick report from WDNR and their willingness, along with WDFW to stand by with the whale until the response vessel was on scene and then stayed as support through the operation. The response was further helped by the excellent weather condition, the location of the whale, the whale being relatively cooperative, and the nature of the entanglement.

Please see the series of photographs below showing the progression of the response, including final photograph from air of whale free of gear.


The first two photos below show the whale in its initial entanglement configuration.


Here are a couple of underwater images of the entanglement configuration before and after the cut of the line across the whale’s back.


Below is a photo from the news helicopter showing CRC responders attaching single tyne grapple to the telemetry buoy line to add more drag to pull line free. This was done after a cut was made to the line on the back of the whale, that went from the left side of the mouth, over it’s back, to the right side of the animal and then down to the gear.


Another photo below is from Komo News 4 showing the whale swimming gear free.