Bar Harbor tour boat helps rescue entangled humpback whale

About 200 passengers who went out on a day-long Bar Harbor whale watch trip earlier this month got a little more than the usual (but still impressive) display of whales breaching, diving, surfacing and spouting water into the air with their breath.

They got a first-hand look at a whale tangled in fishing gear and learned about how to handle such emergencies. Best of all, they found out later, the whale was freed by a Canadian rescue team the next day and is expected to recover.

On June 9, a Bar Harbor Whale Watch boat traveled far offshore into Canadian waters and came across an entangled humpback whale known to whale researchers as “Hang Glide,” so called because of markings on its tail.

Zack Klyver, a naturalist on the whale watch boat, told federal officials that people on board first thought it was a bunch of balloons in the water, because of the grouping of lobster buoys around the animal. After they got closer, they realized it was was an entangled whale. According to a member of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team that later responded to help, rescuers determined the humpback had become ensnared in two lobster trap trawls and had as many as 60 lobster traps dragging behind it.

The whale watch boat extended its trip for a few hours – alerting Canadian officials, taking photos of the distressed whale and assessing its condition before returning to Bar Harbor that evening.  The information was passed along to the whale entanglement response team from Campobello, an island just across the border from the Maine town of Lubec, which set out the next morning and tracked the whale down. After four hours of following the humpback and cutting ropes, they were able to free it from the mass of ropes and traps.

“He was definitely happy to be free, you could tell,” Mackie Green, a Campobello fisherman and member of the rescue team, later told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

To read the NOAA Fisheries press release about the rescue, click here:

You also can read the CBC story about the rescue to get a more Canadian perspective on the response effort.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors. He writes about fisheries, marine-related topics, eastern coastal Maine communities and more for the BDN. He lives in Ellsworth. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.