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Young humpback whale freed from mooring line, buoy off Hawaii

The whale's tail and fins were wrapped in small-gauge line with the plastic buoy floating behind.

HONOLULU — Federal officials say a yearling humpback whale off Hawaii has been freed from a life-threatening entanglement in mooring gear. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said a rescue team cut off about 140 feet of line and a plastic trawling buoy when they freed the whale off Maui on Wednesday.

The whale's tail and fins were wrapped in small-gauge line with the plastic buoy floating behind, the agency said in a statement.

Officials said the whale was in good condition but that the line wrapped around its tail had begun to cut into the animal's flesh. The gear was of "considerable weight," the agency said.

Credit: AP
In this photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, officials remove mooring line and a buoy from a young humpback whale off Ukumehame, Maui, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. (Ed Lyman/NOAA via AP)

The gear will be analyzed to determine its exact source.

"The animal's behavior was very evasive, and while it stayed near the surface, it maintained unusually rapid speeds, at times in excess of six knots," the agency said in a statement Thursday.

Trained responders cut the gear off with a blade attached to a pole after getting close on an inflatable boat. It is a federal crime to approach a humpback whale and the team was working under under federal permit.

Another humpback whale was spotted of Hawaii earlier this month, also entangled in debris.

Video below shows an aerial view of the entangled whale from January 16.

According to the NOAA fisheries website, humpback whales are increasing in numbers following the 1985 moratorium on commercial whaling, "but (the species) faces threats from entanglement in fishing gear, vessel strikes, vessel-based harassment, and underwater noise."

Travis Pittman contributed to this report.