January 2, 2005 in Nation/World

Whale freed after getting caught in fishing gear

The Spokesman-Review

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Scientists apparently freed a young whale from more than 150 feet of lobster fishing gear Friday after riding alongside the animal on a Coast Guard cutter for nearly 24 hours.

The fishing gear had become wrapped around the animal’s head and was digging into its flesh, said Barb Zoodsma, a right whale recovery coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who was part of the rescue team.

The rescue team, which had been following the whale off the coast of Charleston since Thursday, had added buoys and other weights to the gear to slow the whale down so the fishing lines could be cut. But the whale fought, and the pressure eventually pulled the line from the whale’s mouth, officials said.

An aerial crew reported the fishing gear was gone, although Zoodsma said some line may still be wrapped around a flipper of the whale, which was about 2 years old and nearly 40 feet long.

“The whale – as soon as the line parted – it took off like a shot,” Zoodsma said in a telephone interview.

“To say we were excited is a severe understatement, I think,” she said. “A lot of us were at a loss for what to feel because we have not experienced too many good stories, happy-story endings with this species.”

Atlantic right whales were hunted almost to extinction by the early 1900s, and there are only about 300 in the world. Scientists estimate that about 60 percent of right whales become entangled in fishing lines.

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