Drone videos end of marathon effort to free ensnared gray whale

drone video gray whale

A drone pilot in Canada recorded uplifting video footage Saturday of officials freeing a young gray whale that had been tangled in fishing nets. The effort to liberate the 26-foot mammal spanned several days up to the moment, which was captured by the hovering drone, that the majestic creature shook off the binds and swam away.

Drone video captures final scenes in long effort to free gray whale

That ultimately happy ending was set up on July 27 when a fishing group reported that the whale had become tangled in their nets and couldn’t be freed. According to the CTV News Vancouver Island affiliate that covered the saga, the whale had broken away from those initial efforts to liberate it with around 60 feet of gill net still wrapped around its hind half. Sunday’s rescue five days later – and after four hours of hard work by rescuers to loosen and cut the knotted mess – was sweet success that wildlife lovers everywhere can savor by viewing the drone video of the departing whale. 

But that victory wasn’t one that came easy.

Days of waiting, tracking, hacking

Officials involved in the operation said things began getting complicated immediately after the first report of the whale’s predicament. Though a nearby boat from Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) was able reach the mammal, it only managed to remove some of the netting and attach a satellite tag to it before falling back. Not long after, the whale took flight to open sea, traveling up to 30 miles off the coast. Its young age – perhaps 2 years old – meant it apparently hadn’t been entered in the DFO’s identification and tracking data base. 

Despite the whale’s location far out to sea, authorities continued pinging the satellite tag to follow its movement back closer to shore. Eventually a drone was flown to a spot identified by the tracer, and visual contact was made. A DFO boat was sent to the area and spotted the mammal still trailing the nets. 

“We were able to work with the whale,” DFO marine mammal coordinator Paul Cottrell told CTV News, describing the netting as “a mass of meshes and corks and lead line” that had to be cut through in 10 different spots. “It was about four hours. It was a bad one.”

The drone video showed parts of that prolonged effort to free the whale by marine mammal rescue workers hacking away at the netting from a boat. At long last, those officials managed to weaken the tangle enough to let out several yards of slack and let the whale take over. Seemingly on cue, it quickly shook off the remaining roping, and is last seen swimming away unbound.

“We were all exhausted, but it’s so nice to actually have an endgame and actually have the drone show that all the gear’s off,” Cottrell said of the outcome. “Usually it takes, you know, a couple weeks for us to verify because the whale takes off so fast.” 

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