First humpback of the year has a near escape.

22nd Jun 2009 Just days after the first fin whale sighting of the season, RNLI crews successfully free a humpback whale entangled in lobster pot lines of Hook Head, Co. Wexford.

The first humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae sighting of this years whale season, could have gone so disastrously wrong, as a 30ft humpback whale was found entangled in fishing gear east of Slade harbour on the east side of the Hook Head Peninsula yesterday afternoon 21st June 2009.

IWDG started receiving initial reports at around 15:45 on 21/06/09 from local IWDG member Deirdre Slevin, of a large animal caught in fishing gear. It was unclear as to which species of whale it was, or whether it was a whale at all, as a number of basking sharks have been drowned in fishing gear in recent weeks. The first verifiable sighting report on from diver Sean Murray noted the “nodules” on its head, as these sensory lumps known as tubercles are diagnostic, they confirmed it was a humpback whale. By Monday morning 22/06/09 images were being forwarded to IWDG from Chris Maguire and anglers on board the charter boat, MV Orinoco which also confirmed its species.

Divers preparing for a dive observed the whale at around 14:00, and approached for a closer look. It became clear as it surfaced every five minutes or so for air, that what the divers thought was a large white fin was in fact a lobster pot line marker flag, in which the whale had become entangled. The coastguard were alerted and the Fethard inshore lifeboat was launched. After 3-4 attempts the lifeboat crew was able to get close enough to the exhausted whale to cut the rope from the tail-stock area and remove the string of pots it was carrying. On cutting the fishing gear free it gave two blows, submerged, and headed out to sea.

The images illustrate the wonderful work of the Fethard-on-Sea RNLI crew and the dive teams in assessing the situation and contacting the relevant authorities.

This is another conservation good news story from Irish waters, as humpback whale populations today remain at a fraction of their pre-whaling numbers, and many humpback whale populations remain critically endangered. Photo identification fieldwork carried out by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) in recent years has resulted in an online catalogue of 10 humpback whales which are individually recognisable from unique patterns on the ventral surface of their tail flukes, which they lift majestically out of the water before taking a deep dive. This online catalogue represents an important contribution to the entire North Atlantic Humpback whale catalogue, as this charismatic species is very rare in almost all EU Atlantic waters. The majority of humpback images from Irish waters so far have come from the Waterford and Cork coast.

The Irish Humpback Whale catalogue can be viewed on the following link :

This is not the first such incident reported to the IWDG in recent years. In August 2004 an adult humpback whale drowned in similar circumstances off Greencastle, Lough Foyle, Co. Donegal. While in Feb 2005 an exhausted humpback whale was photographed off Llandudno, Wales trailing fishing gear which could be traced back to a Donegal fishing boat. This bizarre incident showed that humpbacks can in the short term survive such incidents, but their long term survival is severely compromised by the sheer weight of the gear.

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