Foggy the whale entangled yet again. Can this danger be prevented?

A rescue team responded to reports of a humpback whale off the coast of Gloucester, Mass. on Wednesday, one of the thousands of whales entangled by fishing gear each year. 

An entangled humpback whale was freed off the coast of Gloucester, Mass., Wednesday night, the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) reports.

Fishermen reported an entangled whale off Cape Ann Wednesday morning to CCS’ Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team. After the team arrived by patrol vessel, they worked for nine hours to help free the 29-year-old whale named Foggy. The humpback had numerous one-inch thick ropes twisted around her body.

One line wrapped around the circumference of her body, just behind her head, was especially dangerous. This rope had gotten caught in other fishing gear attached to the seafloor, restricting the animal to a small area of water while getting embedded 3.6 inches deep around her body.

“We dulled or broke every knife in our kit and every teammate worked their fingers to the bone for this whale. Short of removing the 40 ton whale from the ocean and performing surgery, we did everything humanly possible for this animal,” Scott Landry, director of the rescue team, said in a press release. “With the collar now broken she has a chance to naturally reject the rope but she is quite thin and in poor condition so we have to hope for the best.” 

CCS says they have seen Foggy before. The team previously disentangled the whale in September 2013 in the Bay of Fundy off Nova Scotia. 

But entanglement in fishing gear is not just a problem for Foggy. More than 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises die every year from getting caught in fishing gear. In fact, death by "bycatch" is considered the biggest global killer of all three of these species, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation reports. 

“The problem of entanglement of large whales, right whales, in fixed fishing gear is huge,” says Scott Kraus, a leading researcher on endangered North Atlantic right whales. “It doesn’t seem that way to an individual fisherman. From the whale’s perspective it’s a daily occurrence.” Experts estimate only 450 right whales still exist, and more than 80 percent of these whales show evidence of being entangled at one time, as the Monitor has previously reported

Dr. Kraus suggests changing the color of rope used in lobster traps. If the ropes were colored a bright orange or red, they might act “like traffic cones” and warn nearby whales of danger. 

Other whale advocacy groups, such as The Center for Biological Diversity, EarthJustice, and Oceana, say there are “simple, common-sense solutions” that can be implemented in the fishing industry to protect whales. Some of these solutions include breakaway lines, avoiding fishing in whale feeding area, industry retrieval of lost crab pots and limits on the number of vertical fishing lines in the water.  

And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies is testing the use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – or drones – in monitoring efforts at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in Maui. 

“NOAA and Sanctuary scientists hope that in addition to whale research, using UASs around the humpback reserve could aid them with disentaglement efforts by allowing them to find whales in distress,” the Christian Science Monitor reported. “Boating around the animals could cause further anxiety during an already upsetting experience for the creatures, while the small and quiet drones may prove less disruptive.”

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