British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue


2010-09-10 17:48:00

Shetland Humpback Update

This article and photo courtesy of the BBC

Humpback whale with creel pot lines around its tail (Photo: BBC)Members of the charity British Divers Marine Life Rescue are hoping to cut free the distressed mammal, which is caught up in creel ropes.

Alan Knight from the rescue team said time was running out to free the whale, which was getting increasingly tired and distressed.

He explained that a hooked safety knife would be used in the operation.

The 25ft-long creature's tail was spotted tangled in the ropes attached to buoys off the shore near Vidlin, on the east of the islands.

The marine rescuers were contacted after it became clear that the operation to release the whale would not be simple. A team drove up to Aberdeen overnight and are expected to fly to Shetland later on.

Mr Knight said: "It seems that the whale is actually dragging lots of creel pots behind it because it has moved from one bay to another.

"The team need to establish where the ropes are on the animal and a hooked safety knife will be used to cut the ropes. Rescuers will not get into the water with the whale but will lean over a boat and try to cut the ropes The aim is for the whale to pull completely away from the ropes.

"My worry is that obviously it is going to get very, very tired dragging these creel pots, and if it drags them into deeper water there is a possibility it could be pulled down and actually drown. That is why we have decided to come up overnight so we need to get there as soon as possible so we can release it."

He added: "It is a mammal, it is breathing, although it can stay down for up to half an hour. It is basically in a distressed state, it can also go into a dive reflex which means it will actually stop breathing and that is a very dangerous situation."

Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish SPCA and Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary are also involved in the rescue operation.

Additional information

The BDMLR team of Alan Knight OBE (BDMLR Chair), Geoff Hammock (BDMLRDirector)and Rod Penrose (from the UKMarine Strandings Network)have all been trained on disentanglement techniques at the Centre for Coastal Studies in Cape Cod, where they regularly free Northern Right Whales and Humpback Whales from nets and creel pot lines. Ali Jack (BDMLR Scottish National Organiser) is also joining the team.

The team are currently at a fog-bound Aberdeen airport waiting to fly out to Shetland at 2pm, whilst the specialist equipment and landrover that Rod drove up from Wales, is being shipped, free of charge, by Northline Ferries tonight, to arrive at 6am tomorrow morning.

A team from Scottish Natural Heritage led by Karen Hall will be in a boat soon to keep us up to date with the state of the whale, that observers say is much quieter and moving less than it was yesterday.

If the estimate of the length of this humpback, at 8 metres is correct, then it is likely that the animal is less than a year old, but may already have weaned and is therefore not maternally dependent.

Humpbacks are regularly seen off Shetland but not in large numbers, perhaps one or two each year, from June to September.

Update at 17.20 Friday 10th September

Although local observers saw the whale this morning, the prognosis sadly is not good. It was seen to surface and breathe three times in an hour and then, despite a number of small boats in the area keeping watch, it has not been seen since. Scottish Natural Heritage called off the search mid afternoon today.

Of course, we hope that the young humpback freed itself from the creel lines and swam away, but we fear for the worst. Mankind does have a habit of creating unnatural hazards for wildlife and very often animals will fall foul of them. It is estimated that over half of the baleen (filter feeding) whales that strand in Scotland each year have died due to entanglement in fishing nets or creel lines - this amounts to 5 or 6 every annually but of course these are only the animals that come ashore - many more may sink without trace in the ocean.

Our team should by now be in Shetland but are out of contact. They will stay there until Sunday in the hope that they can investigate this incident further.

Our thanks go to WDCS, who provided some funds for the operation, Northlink Ferries who offered to ship the rescue trailer and landrover to Shetland and to the oil industry airline that flew our team from Aberdeen to Shetland for free as well.

If you would like to make a donation to help us to continue to respond to these and many other incidents, you can do so by clicking on the Justgiving link on our website's homepage. Thank you.

Stephen Marsh
BDMLR Operations Manager