Whale tangled in fishing gear in Lynn Canal

NOAA waiting for more sightings before mounting any response

A humpback whale, not the one that is entangled. (Juneau Empire File)

A humpback whale, not the one that is entangled. (Juneau Empire File)

Marine mammal experts are asking mariners to keep an eye out for a humpback whale caught in a fishing net in Lynn Canal on Monday.

The whale could still have around 30-40 feet of net, mesh and possibly lead line around its midsection, according to a Wednesday release from the U.S. Coast Guard.

At last report, the whale was spotted north of Juneau on Monday in the area of Lynn Sisters, an island west of Lincoln Island at the south end of Lynn Canal. It was then spotted heading south at that time, according to reports to NOAA. Its current location is not known, NOAA spokesperson Julie Speegle said in a Thursday phone interview.

NOAA is waiting for a fresh sighting of the whale before making the call to attempt to free it or not.

“At this point we are just waiting for resighting reports,” Speegle said. A response “depends on if the animal seems to be in distress or maybe it’s freed itself of the line. It would depend on the situation whether we would mount a response or not.”

NOAA coordinates disentanglement efforts through its marine mammal stranding network. Responders from NOAA and partner agencies work together to help free whales.

The humpback became entangled in a gillnet about 1 mile north of Little Island during a salmon gillnet fishery opening in Lynn Canal on Monday. Speegle said a male fisherman attempted to free the whale for about an hour before cutting his net loose for safety reasons. The fisherman first reported the entanglement at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Speegle said.

Reports indicate the whale swam north after being cut loose. At that point, it appeared to be diving and swimming normally, Speegle said. The whale’s tail wasn’t entangled in the net, reports indicate, a good sign for the animal’s mobility.

A second sighting was made at Lynn Sisters sometime Thursday. That report indicated the whale was heading south.

Anyone who spots a tangled whale should call the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s 24/7 response hotline at (877) 925-7773. If unable to call, mariners are asked to radio the Coast Guard on VHF/FM channel 16. They will relay the report.

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and kgullufsen@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.

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