KIHEI - Federal wildlife officials were reassessing their work to try to disentangle a humpback whale off West Maui on Christmas Day, and whale expert Ed Lyman said Sunday that he believes the distressed whale will be able to survive its injuries.
"We've seen much worse and animals surviving it," said Lyman, the marine mammal response manager with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
In studying photos taken of the whale, it appeared that gear that had been on the whale was "most likely all gone," he said. If any remained, it might be in the wound (a notch above the animal's tail), but the animal can expel that over time, he added.
Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary photo
A rope trails from a humpback whale swimming off West Maui on Christmas Day. Officials believe they were able to remove most, if not all, of the rope, giving the animal a much improved chance of survival.
While the whale's injuries were initially considered life-threatening, Lyman said his revised assessment was that they were "likely not life-threatening."
Tour boats reported seeing the injured whale off Launiupoko Wayside Park around 12:15 p.m. Christmas Day. Initially, it appeared that the whale might have been harmed by a boat because it looked as if it was having trouble swimming.
But when a rescue team from the sanctuary arrived, members found that the whale was entangled in 60 to 70 feet of rope and debris, including an anchor. The rope had gouged a notch above the whale's tail.
The team was able to make cuts in the ropes and gear, eventually freeing the whale of most of the debris, although it was uncertain if all of it had been removed.
Also assisting with the whale rescue were officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service.
As of early Sunday afternoon, Lyman had not received any more reports of the distressed whale. But he would like to hear about any sightings.
Anyone who sees the whale or any other entangled marine mammals can call (888) 256-9840.
The whale rescue operation was the second disentanglement so far this whale season.
On Dec. 6, sanctuary officials, with the help of the Coast Guard, freed a juvenile humpback whale from hundreds of feet of plastic rope in waters between Molokai and Oahu.
That distressed whale was initially spotted Dec. 1 off Maui. Officials were unable to free the whale of the lines for several days because of rough seas and problems with locating the animal.