Marine rescue caught on camera when a whale became tangled in cable

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KETCHIKAN, AK (KTUU) A water rescue ended with success on Thursday after crews out of Ketchikan came together to help a trapped whale south of Hydaburg.

The combined effort began several days before the January 5 rescue, when a ship watchman noticed a large whale tethered to a barge.

Upon closer inspection, it appeared the animal had become tangled in an anchor cable. The cable, which was over an inch thick, had wound around the whale’s jaw.

Rick Olson, with Olson Marine, who oversaw the incident, says that’s when the whale likely panicked and attempted to get free, unknowingly winding the cable around its head and trapping the animal further.

Several crews such as Sea Alaska and Alaska Commercial Divers mobilized and helped to free the whale. Olson said the rescue operation took several days of planning, and hours of work once the crews were near the whale, mostly due to the animal being scared.

“The whale was getting kind of crazy, so we had to let him calm down. We didn’t want to injure him any more. He’d kind of tire out, and we’d work some more on it. Then he’d get a little goosey, pulling and trying to get away, so we’d just have to stop,” Olson said.

After about two hours, the crew had slackened the anchor cable enough to cut through it, and pull it away from the whale.

After being freed, the whale surfaced a few times before disappearing from the area. The crews in Ketchikan intend to keep an eye out for the animal to ensure it will be alright.

Olson said the whale was like that for several days before being freed, with enough slack to surface and feed. He said at the time of the rescue, there were seals and dozens of other whales nearby, apparently feeding off the same herring pools that had attracted the trapped whale.

Olson said that he has worked in the marine industry overseeing tug, barge, and anchoring operations for 25 years, but this was the first whale rescue he had been a part of.

“Everyone involved was really worried for him. They thought it was terrible to see it, all wound up in the cable like that,” Olson said. “Everybody involved, when they saw this thing, they did whatever they could do to help.”