A humpback whale was freed from a tangle of rope off the coast of Maui this week thanks to the efforts of trained marine mammal rescuers.
First spotted by a fishing boat captain on January 11th, the adult whale had more than 87 meters (285 feet) of tough, braided line stuck in its mouth.
Tipped off to its location, a collaborative group of responders from several government organizations, conservation nonprofits, and a professional whale watching company jumped into inflatable rafts and set off in search that afternoon.
When they approached the animal hours later, it "became quite active" in their presence, according to a report shared with IFLScience by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
After the distressed whale calmed down a bit, the responders were able to attach a buoy to float the line to the surface, enabling them to remove about 33 meters (110 feet) of line. Continued disentangling efforts were thwarted, however, by the approaching darkness. Prior to returning to shore, they attached a GPS tracker to the line in order to quickly find the creature in the morning.
When they returned on January 12th, the responders patiently restarted the process of pulling rope from the whale's mouth. About two hours later, the whale was finally free, and appeared to celebrate the rescuers' efforts by breaching several times near the boats.
"With the removal of gear, it is believed that the animal has an excellent chance of surviving," said the statement.
Despite this particular story's happy ending, events like this are upsettingly common among marine mammals (and sharks) due to the staggering amount of garbage and debris in our oceans. And unless they are happened upon by rescuers, many entangled animals sustain serious injuries or die.
Several US laws prohibit garbage or other pollutants from being dumped into the ocean, and because of the high danger posed by nets, ropes, and other fishing equipment, specific rules have been put in place for private and commercial fishing vessels.
The rope will now be analyzed by NOAA officials to determine where it came from.