Humpback whale rescued in UK waters

Volunteers free tangled cetacean from fishing gear off Devon.    

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Chris Lowe reaches down to cut the rope
Chris Lowe reaches down to cut the rope © Henry Kirkwood

 

A fisherman reported a humpback whale caught in his lobster pot ropes on 22 March.

British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and members of the coastguard attempted to rescue the leviathan in a RNLI lifeboat but soon realised the fishing gear was holding the whale’s tail beneath the water – they had to come up with a new plan.

Watch the video of this amazing rescue:

Photographer Henry Kirkwood watched the drama unfold from the shore.

“We could see it repeatedly blowing and surfacing, but it was clearly restrained by the rope that was visibly wrapped around the front of its body, and around its tail,” he said. 

It took the team four hours to free the marine mammal as they decided to raise the tail by hauling the fishing gear onto a fishing boat.

Team members from the RNLI and BDMLR assess the entanglement of the humpback whale © Annabelle and Chris Lowe / BDMLR

In a dramatic move, one rescuer dangled off the side of the vessel to cut the rope and free the 20 tonne humpback.

“We had to wait a couple of minutes before we were definitely sure that the whale was free as we were not immediately certain that the rope had unravelled as planned,” said volunteer Dan Jarvis. 

“When we were back ashore packing up it came back close in parallel to the shore and was back to normal, [which was] brilliant to see.”

A close-up of the entangled humpback whale © Annabelle and Chris Lowe / BDMLR

At the time of writing, the humpback whale hasn't been seen since the rescue. 

The humpback whale was first spotted off the Devon coast in late February. 

Chris Lower was the Marine Mammal Medic from BDMLR who precariously dangled off the fishing boat to cut the rope from the humpback whale © Henry Kirkwood

 

Read the statement and more photos from BDMLR regarding the rescue

See more of Henry Kirkwood's photo of the rescue on his Flickr page. 

 

Your 60 second guide to humpback whales

 

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Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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