Rescue team saves entangled humpback whale off New Jersey coast

Members of a disentanglement team from the Center for Coastal Studied work to cut the that entangled the humpback whale on Wednesday, July 11.

A rescue team has saved a juvenile humpback whale that had been entangled in a line for months in an operation Wednesday off the New Jersey coast, the federal fisheries agency said Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries agency said the whale was the same one that was seen swimming in Raritan Bay on July 4.

The first report of the entangled whale came last November, but a team’s attempt to cut the line was only partially successful, and a tight wrap of line remained around its upper jaw, NOAA said, adding that it was “wrapped around especially sensitive locations, including the eye and blowhole.”

Camera icon NOAA Fisheries
The humpback whale, now free of its entangling rope, swimming off Sandy Hook, N.J., on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, a team from the Cape Cod-based Center for Coastal Studies was able to make a delicate cut to disentangle the whale off Sandy Hook.

“If left alone, the animal had no chance,” David Morin, NOAA Fisheries’ Atlantic large whale disentanglement coordinator, said in a statement. “The whale would have died a slow and painful death. Even in response, the tight wrap left such a small area — about a foot or two wide — that we could cut.”

An attempt to get to the whale last week in Raritan Bay was thwarted by Fourth of July boat traffic, NOAA said.

A Coast Guard helicopter spotted the whale Wednesday in the middle of the shipping lanes at the entrance to New York Harbor, where the rescue team could operate unobstructed.

“In many ways, this was more than we could have hoped for,” said Scott Landry of the Center for Coastal Services. “Some of the rope is still caught in the whale’s mouth, but removing that would be too dangerous for the whale. Given time, the whale should be able to shed that bit of rope.”