Rescuers disentangled a young humpback whale Friday afternoon off the coast of Provincetown.
After whale watchers aboard the Dolphin Fleet spotted the whale, the Marine Animal Entanglement Response (MAER) team from the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) spent four to five hours freeing the whale from the entanglement of ropes and buoys, according to a CCS statement.
"We are trying to get the whale tired out and keeping it up to surface so that means the team has to be towed around in a small boat," said Scott Landry, director of the MAER team, "and holding our position to the whale as close as possible — so it can actually be physically tiring."
This isn't the first, and may not be the last, whale the team rescues this year. Since May, the CCS has disentangled at least five whales, mostly humpbacks, off the coast of Cape Cod, according to its website.
Although Landry considers the outcome of Friday's incident a success, whales often don't receive treatment for the injuries that they may procure from entanglement.
"One thing to keep in mind is that we're not veterinarians," Landry said. "The animal is not in a hospital, so any injuries the whale sustains during the entanglement, the whale has to resolve on its own. There's no medical care we can give the whale to help it."
The number of entanglement varies year to year, depending on how often individuals come across and report whales in trouble, Landry said. In a good year, he says the team rescues 20 marine individuals — good because that means people are reporting the entanglements.
Though humpback whales are not common during the winter months, CCS's Cathrine Macort told WBUR that the team is still busy disentangling whales — mostly North Atlantic Right Whales — from November through May.
In general, Landry said the problem is a hard one to prevent.
"Preventing entanglement would obviously be much better than disentangling whales, and that's mainly because we can't find every entangled whale," he said. "It's one of those simple problems that doesn't have a simple solution that we've found so far."
Boaters are urged to report any entanglement sightings of whales, sea turtles and other marine animals to the MAER hotline at 1-800-900-3622 or the U.S. Coast Guard.
With additional reporting by WBUR's Amy Gorel