A young killer whale that became entangled in a prawn trap line in the waters off Rocky Point in Nanaimo receives help from an older whale. The juvenile orca eventually managed to free itself. (Photo courtesy Ricarda Brusegard)

A young killer whale that became entangled in a prawn trap line in the waters off Rocky Point in Nanaimo receives help from an older whale. The juvenile orca eventually managed to free itself. (Photo courtesy Ricarda Brusegard)

Young killer whale untangles itself from trap line off Nanaimo shore

DFO marine mammal rescue unit was en route as whale broke free from prawn trap line

Members of DFO’s Marine Mammal Rescue are chalking up an incident this week as a win even though they didn’t quite make it to the scene.

Paul Cottrell, fisheries biologist and coordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Rescue, and his team members responded Sunday at about 5 p.m. after they received a call to help free a juvenile killer whale entangled in the line of a prawn trap just off Rocky Point in north Nanaimo.

The young whale dragged the line and trap for about 600 metres and was struggling to free itself.

Boaters nearby called the DFO whale rescue unit and stayed back and observed until help arrived.

“What happened initially was the big killer whales were foraging and consuming and tenderizing a harbour seal right where the buoy [for the trap line] is and near the end of the kill, unfortunately one of the juvenile killer whales got caught up in the rope there,” Cottrell said.

The orca managed to get itself untangled shortly after the DFO team left the dock to respond.

“They don’t always get out themselves,” Cottrell said. “I’ve been involved in quite a few rescues over the years … where animals were stuck.”

Cottrell said no two entanglements are alike. Depending on the whale’s struggles, trap lines can wrap around their tails multiple times or become caught up in the animal’s mouth, pectoral fins and tail so the whale becomes effectively hog-tied and unable to move. If a whale can’t get to the water’s surface it can drown.

Some animals get tangled up more often than others.

“I think they’re very aware of their surroundings, killer whales, but I think it’s often curiosity too,” Cottrell said. “There are a couple of animals that are renowned for interacting with ropes and floats and lines … One of the animals we rescued a number of [times] was an animal that has a bad habit of doing that and … every year, this one particular animal we get three or four calls … he’s quite a character.”

Because of their smaller size, orcas don’t have the stamina of whales with greater body mass that can actually drag fishing gear for very long distances, sometimes for months, so it’s important that help comes quickly.

“We’re basically a kind of SWAT team, ready to respond at any time,” Cottrell said. “I have kit with me all the time because it’s a priority in my job to be able to respond to entangle animals, so it’s kind of cool and I love it.”

READ ALSO: ‘Almost supernatural:’ orcas active around Nanaimo

Research is being conducted in Canada and the U.S. to design rope-less fishing gear or release mechanisms to prevent entanglement, but there are ways to help avoid it which include using tether lines that sink to the ocean bottom or lines that limit slack for a whale to wrap itself up in.

“If you have too much loose line an animal can easily get wrapped around there and they’ll interact with the line, maybe deep where they don’t see it and if they panic and roll, they get it around their tail stock and they’re screwed,” Cottrell said.

He said the people who called his team for help did the right thing by staying back from the whales and observing until help arrived.

“You really have to be careful when you come on scene to really assess before you start cutting, because if you make the wrong cut you can actually make things worse for the animal,” he said.

Anyone who spots a whale stranded on the shore, entangled in fishing gear or otherwise in distress is asked to report the incident immediately to the 24-hour DFO marine mammal incident hotline at 1-800-465-4336.



photos@nanaimobulletin.com
Like us on
Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Orca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Coaches with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey association have had to get creative during their weekly practices to keep players interested and improving their skills without physical contact. (Damian Kowalewich photo)
West Shore minor hockey coach shares what it’s like on the ice without parents, fans

Most practices consist of relay races, goalie shots and passing drills

The Songhees Wellness Centre is a symbol of First Nations strength in the region. Representatives of local First Nations will soon play a greater role in decision making and governance relating to the Capital Regional District. (Courtesy Royal Roads University)
Capital Regional District to add First Nations representatives to advisory committees

Board approves bylaw, looks forward to Indigenous input on future decisions

Central Saanich will investigate ways in which the municipality along with funding partners Sidney and North Saanich can financially support the Panorama Recreation Centre. (Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich to spell out options for financially supporting Panorama Recreation Centre

Municipality looks for best use of COVID-19 restart grant worth some $3.5 million

Willow, a kitten belonging to a Victoria family, was rescued by firefighters on Thursday after she got stuck in a basement drain pipe. (City of Victoria/Twitter)
Victoria kitten stuck in basement drain pipe rescued by firefighters

Willow the cat on the mend, owner feeling ‘enormous gratitude’

(Black Press Media file photo)
Blue-green algae bloom confirmed in Elk Lake, water-based activities not recommended

Blue-green algae can be lethal to dogs, cause health issues for humans

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage addresses the attendees while Tom Olsen, Managing Director of the Canadian Energy Centre, looks on at a press conference at SAIT in Calgary on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Fulmes
‘Morally and ethically wrong:’ Court to hear challenge to Alberta coal policy removal

At least 9 interveners will seek to join a rancher’s request for a judicial review of Alberta’s decision

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Everett Bumstead (centre) and his crew share a picture from a tree planting location in Sayward on Vancouver Island from when they were filming for ‘One Million Trees’ last year. Photo courtesy, Everett Bumstead.
The tree planting life on Vancouver Island features in new documentary

Everett Bumstead brings forth the technicalities, psychology and politics of the tree planting industry in his movie

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Most Read