OFF MOUNT DESERT ISLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- For years there's been conflict between commercial fishermen and government regulators over the issue of whales that get entangled in fishing gear.
This week, all sides came together to help free a humpback whale that had become hopelessly snared in ropes off Mount Desert Island.
The humpback whale was first spotted on Saturday by a local lobsterman about four miles out to sea from Duck Island, south of Mount Desert Island. The fisherman called the Marine Patrol. They used a plane and a boat to find the whale. When they located it, responders tied on a GPS buoy so they could find the whale again.
The humpback is not endangered, but it is a protected species. Entanglements are rare, but Maj. Alan Talbot of the Maine Marine Patrol says they do happen.
"Last year we had hardly any," said Talbot. "We had only a few. We'd like to think the effort the fishermen are making does contribute to the fact we don't have many."
Once on-scene, the Marine Patrol quickly realized how dire things looked for the whale. They called in experts from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Center for Coastal studies on Cape Cod.
Together, they tracked the whale's moves. It's swimming had been restricted by all the ropes and the weight of the lobster traps attached to them -- and that put its life in danger
They tied on larger buoys to keep the whale closer to the surface. And tied the small boat right to them, meaning the rescuers and the whale were tied together.
It took a lot of time. Responders never knew when the whale would be close enough to slice off another turn of rope.
The whale began to surface more often --- a sign it was getting agitated. Biologists said an agitated whale can be dangerous.
But piece by piece, they were gradually able to cut it free.
"It's in great shape now," said Scott Landry of the Center for Coastal Studies. "It's got a lot of work to do, and a lot of feeding to do, but it now has a much better chance of survival."
The Marine Patrol says that so far they believe the lobster gear was all in compliance with federal regulations, which are designed to minimize whale entanglements. The Maine Marine Patrol is authorized to disentangle smaller Minke whales, but for the larger ones they're required to call in the federal experts.
Before it was gone, they snared a tissue sample from the whale. Scientists will use DNA to identify the whale in case they ever meet again.