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Attempts made to free a humpback whale that had gotten tangled in fishing gear: Photos

By Staff

  • Humpback whale in Faxalói The whale is dragging large pieces of fishing nets, tangled around his body and tail. The nets which are stuck to the whale's tail fin have dug into his skin. Photo from the Facebook page of Whale Safari.

The Icelandic Coast Guard and members of Icewhale, an association of Icelandic whale watching firms attempted to cut fishing nets off a humpback whale in Faxaflói bay.

Badly tangled, dragging large pieces of fishing nets
The whale was spotted on the morning of Friday July 30 by Whale watching boats in Faxaflói. In this first sighting it was clear the whale was tangled in fishing nets, and seemed to have a large wound by his tail fin. As the whale was tracked over the following days it became clear he was very badly entangled, dragging large pieces of nets which were in his mouth, around his body and tail.  Despite the nets the whale was able to swim around and seemed to be able to feed.

The whale watching firms and the Coast Guard monitored the movements of the whale, assessing what could be done to help him. On August 3 the Coast Guard and crews and vessels from the whale watching firms in Reykjavík harbour then launched a rescue mission to free the whale from his entanglement.

 Humpback whale in Faxaflói entengled in nets

All tangled up Despite being dragging large pieces of nets the humpback is mobile and able to feed. Photo from the Facebook page of Whale safari.

María Gunnarsdóttir at Icewhale told local newspaper Morgunblaðið foreign experts had been consulted prior to the rescue attempt. Humpback whales can be dangerous when distressed and therefore the animal had to be approached with care. While the initiative came from Icewhale, the rescue attempt was overseen and organized by the Icelandic Coast Guard.

According to María the first attempt did not succeed in freeing the whale. "The Coast Guard was able to remove some of it, but not the really big pieces [of fishing lines and nets]. We had a hard time getting close to him, which made the rescue attempts harder." According to a post on the Facebook page of Elding Whale Watching, which participated in the rescue mission along with Whale Safari and Special Tours, the whale was clearly in a lot of pain: 

"So the whale watching companies (Elding, Whale Safari and Special Tours) and the coastguard got together today to try and see if we could do anything to untangle the humpback whale that is obviously in a lot of pain. It was a tester to see if it could be done. The Coastguard did what they could but today proved unsuccessful. The whale was aggravated, as you would expect, and wouldn't let them close."

Humpback whale in Faxaflói entengled in nets

 Distressed and wounded In this picture we can see that the net is also stuck to his lower jaw. Photo from the Facebook page of Special tours

No divers participated in the rescue attempt, as only boats were used. María Gunnarsdóttir at Icewhale explained that this decision was in accordance to expert advice. The whale, she told Morgunblaðið, was quite agitated when the rescuers approached, but that he seemed to have calmed down by the time the rescue operations finished.

According to the Facebook page of Elding the reason might have been that the whale had been interrupted during his dinner:

"The interesting thing is that as soon as the coastguard left, it did the most incredible surface feeding behaviours I’ve seen. Obviously more annoyed with them disturbing his/her dinner than the actual coming too close." 

Humpback whale in Faxaflói entengled in nets

Further rescue missions planned The first rescue mission was overseen and organized by The Icelandic Coast Guard. Photo from the Facebook page of Elding

A further rescue mission is being planned. According to a previous post by Elding the sea needs to be "super calm" for a fully successful rescue operation:

"It is a dangerous job and unfortunately the sea conditions have not been good the last days. We need super calm sea conditions to do anything so let’s hope something can be done soon."

We will keep you updated as this story continues to develop.

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