Mama humpback whale freed from ropes off the coast of Chatham


The whale was swimming with her calf, and both mother and baby likely would have died if she hadn’t been freed.

A humpback whale named Thumper was freed from ropes Monday off the coast of Chatham. CCS image taken under NOAA permit 18786.

The Marine Animal Entanglement Response team (MAER) at the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) freed a badly entangled humpback whale Monday off the coast of Chatham, the center said in a news release Tuesday.

The whale, named Thumper, was with her young calf, and had thick rope wrapped five times around her body. This likely made it difficult to feed her calf, according to the statement.

The team spent an hour using a specially-designed cutting grapple to cut Thumper free. Both Thumper and her calf were in poor condition, which indicates that Thumper had likely been entangled for months, the CCS said.

The center’s prognosis for both whales is now much improved.

The CCS said a private boat from the Chatham Bars Inn spotted Thumper and her calf in the late morning on Monday about 10 miles east of Chatham Harbor.

Thumper was still able to swim despite the ropes. According to the statement, the boat drivers agreed to stay by the whales while the MAER team responded from Provincetown.

When the MAER team members arrived on the scene, they noted that Thumper was much thinner and paler than other current humpback mothers. She also had wounds across her body, as well as a heavy infestation of whale lice, according to the statement.

Her calf was also smaller and thinner than other calves seen in the area, the center said. Without intervention, it said, the entanglement would have been lethal for both whales.

Thumper surfaces for air, gear-free, with the boat from the Chatham Bars Inn in the background. – CCS image taken under NOAA permit 18786

The center said that freeing Thumper was difficult due to rough sea conditions and her calf being nearby. Eventually, the team opted to use a grappling hook with sharp blades which they threw into her entanglement.

According to the statement, the team attached a long tether and large float to the grappling hook, which created enough drag to create cutting capability. It took a few throws to attach to the entanglement, but once in place, the buoy went slack within seconds.

When Thumper returned to the surface for air, the center said, the ropes wrapped around her body were gone, and both mother and calf swam off to the east.

Watch the rescue:

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