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

A cat died in this house fire in Sidney afternoon. The fire started on the house’s deck and spread from that point. Sidney Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brett Mikkelsen said the permanent presence of crews at the Community Safety Building prevented worse damage. (Photo courtesy of Clayton Firth)
Sidney house fire kills cat, causes extensive damage

Official says fire started on deck and damage to the house could have been worse

Millstream Village is welcoming a new Marshalls location March 9. (Photo courtesy GWL Realty Advisors)
New Marshalls store in Langford brings boost to women in need

Retailer will hold opening ceremony in Millstream Village March 9

Abstract Developments is donating $75,000 to support community programming at The Cridge Centre for the Family. (Courtesy of The Cridge Centre)
Victoria developer builds support for community programs

Abstract Developments donates $75,000 to The Cridge Centre for the Family

SD 62 (Sooke) has announced a COVID-19 exposure at David Cameron Elementary in Colwood. Potential exposure dates are Monday, Feb. 22; Tuesday, Feb. 23; and Wednesday, Feb. 24. (Black Press Media File).
COVID-19 exposure at Colwood’s David Cameron Elementary

Potential exposure dates are Monday, Feb. 22; Tuesday, Feb. 23; and Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Office vacancy rates are rising in Greater Victoria while the supply of industrial land is shrinking. (Black Press Media File)
Report finds supply of industrial land in Greater Victoria shrinking

Office vacancy rates in Greater Victoria continue to rise

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Most Read