1 January 2024

Humpback whale freed from metres of fishing line and floats off Murramarang

| Genevieve Jacobs
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inflatable boat on water

NPWS specialist crew have freed a humpback whale from fishing gear at Murramarang. Photo: B. Gresty, NPWS.

A heavily entangled humpback whale has been successfully freed from 20 metres of trading rope and two fishing buoys by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Whale Rescue team.

Volunteers from Marine Rescue Batemans Bay assisted with the operation off Murramarang National Park on New Year’s Eve after the whale was initially spotted by members of the public off Broulee earlier in the day.

A Marine Rescue boat from Bateman’s Bay shadowed the whale, having taken over from a DPI Shark Program contractor who followed the whale north after it was first sighted.

The crew on board Marine Rescue BM 20 tracked the humpback north from near the Tollgate Islands while Batemans Bay 30 transported members of the NPWS tactical team to the entangled whale.

The whale had been swimming about 100m offshore and rescuers said it appeared to be in poor condition, potentially before becoming entangled. Most healthy whales completed their migration along the south coast some weeks ago.

Favourable sea conditions with light winds and an even running swell assisted six members of the Large Whale Disentanglement team, who were able to attach flotation devices to the two orange buoys trading from the whale.

The NPWS Shearwater II inflatable boat, based at Narooma, was deployed and rescuers were able to cut the whale free from the buoys and an extensive tangle of fishing rope by 5 pm.

fishing line and floats

Material recovered from the successful whale disentanglement operation. Photo: NPWS.

The operation is the eighth successful rescue in 2023 for Large Whale Disentanglement Team, who have disentangled seven whales and worked with SeaWorld to free another. A further six whales disentangled themselves from drumline gear which is designed to enable self-release.

NPWS says that unfortunately, there have been a record 45 reported entanglements in 2023, surpassing the previous highest total of 43 in 2019. Many of these whales could not be assisted because they are reported too long after the sighting, or very late in the day, or when sea conditions are too dangerous for crews to be safely deployed.

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Humpback whale populations have steadily increased in recent decades and over 40,000 humpback whales were expected to swim past the NSW coast during their annual migration.

During the migration season between May and November, the NSW coast is known as the “humpback highway”.

If you see a possibly injured or entangled whale, immediately contact 13000 PARKS (1300 072 757). Note the time, your location, the whale’s direction of travel and speed, look for injuries and identifying marks and take photographs of the entangling material to help rescuers bring the most suitable gear to remove it. If possible, try to keep watch until help arrives.

Alternatively, you can call the 24/7 ORRCA hotline on 02 9415 3333. ORRCA is the Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia, the only volunteer wildlife rehabilitation group in New South Wales licensed to be involved with marine mammal rescue, rehabilitation and release.

Do not attempt to approach or release the animal yourself: you must be no closer than 30m to a whale. NPWS has further information on their website.

Original Article published by Genevieve Jacobs on About Regional.

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