Tangled whale freed from fishing line near Unalaska

Federal authorities said a humpback whale found tangled in a fishing line this week near Unalaska was freed on Friday.

The roughly 32-foot 2-year-old male whale was first reported in distress Monday afternoon in Iliuliuk Bay, which sits between Unalaska and Dutch Harbor, said Asia Beder, an assistant area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The City of Unalaska used a drone to take photos of the whale from above, which helped rescuers see how the whale was tangled, she said.

The whale had a line through its mouth that also wrapped around the base of its tail, said Julie Fair, a spokeswoman for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries in Alaska. She described the whale as being hogtied.

The line appeared to be associated with fishing gear, but the response team is planning to evaluate it to confirm, said Sadie Wright, a large whale entanglement coordinator with NOAA Fisheries in Alaska.

Community members watched from shore and reported information about the whale’s location, respiration rate and condition while whale entanglement experts traveled from Juneau and Hawaii to help free the animal, Wright said. Officials used a camera attached to a long pole to take underwater footage of the whale in order to plan how to disentangle it, she said.

Approaching tangled whales can be dangerous because the animals are stressed and unpredictable.

Officials used a roughly 30-foot pole with a hook knife and an attached camera to cut the line, said Ed Lyman, a large whale entanglement response coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. They cut the line in two separate places before the whale freed itself and swam off around 11 a.m. Friday, he said.

The whale had some cuts to its tail but appeared to be in good condition otherwise, Wright said.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.