The Department of Conservation is asking people to keep a lookout for a humpback whale, likely entangled in a cray pot line, seen off the Northland coast last week.
The whale was seen by a private helicopter company at the entrance of Doubtless Bay with a line tangled around its tail. It was seen with a larger humpback whale which did not appear to be entangled.
Since the confirmed sighting last Wednesday, DOC’s disentanglement team have led extensive land, sea, and sky searches for the whale without success.
Dr Cat Peters Whale Disentanglement Team Lead at DOC, says the current priority is to locate the whale and assess the situation.
“From initial sightings we believe the pectoral fins and head of the whale to be free from entanglement, which means it would be able to breathe and therefore survive for a while – perhaps weeks or months – with the line around it. That being said, we want to work to eliminate its distress as soon as possible.
“I believe the whale could easily be anywhere from Doubtless Bay in the North to as far south as Auckland. We are asking people to keep an eye out for it from land, sea, or air.”
Anyone who sees the entangled whale should call DOC’s 24-hour hotline 0800 DOCHOT/0800 36 24 68. No one should attempt to cut the whale free themselves as this is very dangerous. Boaties spotting the whale should not get close to it or do anything that would disturb or harass the whale.
DOC leads teams trained in disentangling whales using specialised equipment, and these trained personnel will attempt to disentangle the whale when found.
“People seeing the whale can assist our rescue response by staying with the whale, monitoring it, taking photos or video, and advising of its exact location for our disentanglement team to get to it.”
“The whale will likely be in some distress, but it is moving and is not any immediate danger so urgent action, rather than waiting for the team to arrive, isn’t required. The priority is people’s safety and ensuring disentanglement is carried out safely by our trained team.”
Attempts to cut free entangled whales are only carried out when it is safe to do so. For safety, it requires sea conditions not being too rough and sufficient daylight hours, as the procedures can take several hours and it’s not safe to disentangle whales in darkness.
The whale disentanglement team initially fully assesses the situation to determine the safest and most appropriate course of action for attempting to cut free entangled whales. Having an exact location for an entangled whale assists the whale disentanglement team in getting to the whale as soon as it is possible to do so.