New Zealand rescuers cut entangled humpback whale free from rope and slow death

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NZ rescuers cut rope to free entangled whale

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand rescuers cut free a humpback whale Wednesday that had been entangled for at least two days in a heavy nylon rope that officials said would have caused its slow death.

Rescuers in two boats took seven hours to slowly tire out the 39-foot (12-meter) animal before they could cut off the rope, Conservation Department spokeswoman Carolyn Smith said. Similar efforts failed Tuesday.

Spotted close to North Island’s east coast by a fisherman on Monday, the 30-ton humpback had heavy green nylon rope wrapped around its head and tail.

“Immediately following its release, the whale headed steadily out to sea,” Smith said. “Without intervention, the whale would have died.”

The rescue was tempered by a report later Wednesday that a tourist boat had spotted a second large whale with a short rope and a plastic buoy tangled near its mouth in the same east coast area of North Island.

The Conservation Department plans to try to rescue the whale on Thursday, Smith said.

Department area manager Jonathan Maxwell said rescuers had used the “kegging” method, which involves people in boats snaring the whale to slowly tire the powerful mammal, before one boat moved in to cut away the rope using a curved knife on a long pole.

Such rescues of large animals are “dangerous undertakings” that require well-trained staff, Maxwell said.

The rescue comes days after 74 pilot whales became stranded in Spirits Bay in New Zealand’s far north. Only 14 of the whales were saved after they were driven an hour to Rarawa Beach to be refloated in calm sea conditions.

In August, 58 pilot whales were stranded on another northern beach and only nine survived.

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