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Minke whale entanglement – an update from the field

This blog is written by Stephen Marsh who is the Operations Manager with BDMLR, one of the six SEA partners.

On Tuesday 10th July, crew on the wildlife trip boat run by Hebridean Whale Cruises out of Gairloch saw an entangled mike whale in the North Minch. The whale approached the boat on three occasions in the same area and one of the crew who is also a volunteer for British Divers Marine Life Rescue alerted the charity.

BDMLR, one of the SEA partners, rescues marine mammals around the UK and has a specially trained team that disentangles whales at sea, one of the most physical and dangerous types of rescue. The training is rigorous and follows the protocols of the IWC’s Global Whale Entanglement Response Network, using highly specialised equipment.

As it was reported that the minke whale had line going through its mouth and probably baleen, the charity’s Large Whale Disentanglement Team (LWDT) was scrambled and the equipment trailer was brought over from its base in Findhorn for a 7pm rendezvous at Gairloch.

In the meantime, BDMLR’s head office had been in touch with Marine Scotland and put in a request for MV Minna, a fisheries protection vessel that was already in the area, to provide assistance and to scout the area for the whale. MV Minna carries rigid inflatable boats that would have acted as support boats for the rescue.

On arrival at Gairloch Pier, the team checked the gear and Hebridean Whale Cruises, having finished their public trips for the day around 7.30pm, kindly handed their boat over to BDMLR’s experienced skipper to go out to check for the whale.

Sadly, although the whale had approached the boat during the day, the search of the area did not result in sightings. As the darkness fell, the team returned to shore around 11pm for a debrief, food and a couple of hours’ rest before returning to sea at 4am on the Wednesday.

The early morning four-hour sortie did not find the whale either and the boat was returned to Hebridean Wildlife Cruises for its day trips. Due to worsening sea conditions, their first trip was cancelled and the trip that went out later, again failed to see the whale.

BDMLR head office had previously arranged for spotter planes to fly over the area during the day, courtesy of Skywatch Civil Air Patrol. The plan had been for a light plane to fly from the east coast with BDMLR spotters on board who would be in contact with the team on the water, but the weather front moving in from the west meant that this was no longer possible.

With the free-swimming whale not having been seen for over 24 hours, coupled with the fact that due to the sea state it would extremely difficult to spot and would be too risky to attempt a rescue the decision was made to stand down, repacked the rescue trailer and return home ready to come back out if the whale was spotted again.

Thanks are due to all involved from BDMLR in the rescue attempt with a special mention to Veerle Van Den Bossche for the use of her boat and to Steve Truluck who worked all day for the wildlife boat company but still went out to guide the team through the night. Also to Marine Scotland for tasking MV Minna and her crew to assist and to Skywatch for their offer of help.

The minke whale has not been spotted since and could be anywhere, but BDMLR is aware and still on stand-by. Photographs show that lines had probably already been cut, possibly by a concerned fisherman, but this meant that without the weight of lines and gear to hamper the whale’s progress, the job of finding it and clearing the remaining entanglement is made more difficult. If the whale is spotted again then people are encouraged to call BDMLR or SEA to alert the team.

Stephen Marsh
BDMLR Operations Manager

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