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’s Rocky Point

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

OrcaWhales

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Nanaimo African Heritage Society is capping its month of Black History Month celebrations with a virtual gala on Sunday, Feb. 28. (News Bulletin photo)
Nanaimo African Heritage Society presents virtual Black History Month gala

Event to feature a variety of speakers and performers

(Black Press file)
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools reports COVID-19 exposure at Cedar Elementary

School district says Island Health has completed contact tracing

(News Bulletin file)
RDN warns residents not to give financial info over phone

Resident hung up and called RDN after receiving call for credit card information

(Black Press file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Wexford Creek home in Nanaimo declared over

Social visits resume at south Nanaimo facility today, Feb. 27, says Island Health

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from the beach in rescue attempt in Nanaimo

Animal dies in spite of efforts of marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

1957 photo shows Six Mile House-sponsored #4 1932 Ford stock car with Frank Morris (from left), Ted Mackenzie, Bill Sim and driver Gerry Sylvester. (Bud Glover/Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame)
Memories race as Western Speedway approaches its finish line

‘It was life to us:’ Vancouver Island racers, crew will never forget what the track gave them

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Wayne Allen's graduation photo from Chemainus Secondary School. (Photo submitted)
Brother charged with murder in Vancouver Island teenager’s Ontario death

Jesse James Allen stands accused in the death of Wayne Allen, a 2020 Chemainus Secondary grad

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen to field COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A 50-year-old man was stabbed in an altercation that started with a disagreement about physical distancing. (File photo)
Argument about physical distancing leads to stabbing in Nanaimo

Suspect arrested on Gabriola Island an hour after incident Wednesday, Feb. 24

Snuneymuxw artist Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun is among the artists participating in the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Rain Shadow exhibit. His piece, ‘We Fell from the Sky/Together and Apart,’ depicts a Snuneymuxw creation story. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit explores the ways people think about place

‘Rain Shadow’ features work mostly by Vancouver Island and Gulf Island artists

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

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Most Read