Specialists say it could take ‘months’ to free snagged humpback whale seen in Firth of Forth

The whale has been caught up in material. Pic: contributedThe whale has been caught up in material. Pic: contributed
The whale has been caught up in material. Pic: contributed

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A team of specialists say it could take months to free a humpback whale snagged in a fisherman’s creel pot buoy in the Firth of Forth.

The huge sea creature was seen earlier this week just off the Kinghorn coast in Fife along with a smaller whale, thought to be its calf.

Members of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), an internationally recognised voluntary marine mammal organisation, have been searching for the mammal since a fisherman at sea told them about the incident.

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Speaking to the Evening News, Paul Smith, a member of the BDMLR ‘large whale specialist entanglement team,’ said they are working with local fishermen, sailors and the UK Civil Aviation Patrol to find the whale.

He said: “We’ve got about eight people who are going out on the boats and various team members spotting on land. As soon as we get a sighting we will zip out in the boat.

“But it could go on for months because the Forth is a huge body of water. It’s about being in the right place at the right time. We are on standby and ready to go if any sightings come in.”

Mr Smith also highlighted that the work they do, which requires specialist training, can be “very dangerous,” adding: “We have had people around the world dying trying to free whales. We are riding on its back trying to free the gear with ultra sharp knives, so it’s very, very dangerous.”

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Mr Smith, also known to friends and colleagues as ‘Smudger,’ says they were first notified about the snagged whale by a fisherman heading east to the North Sea on Tuesday, February 26th.

The team was mobilised but they were unable to trace it as the whale had a 12-mile head start.

On Wednesday, the whale made its way into the Firth and was spotted just a few hundred yards from Pettycur Harbour.

The specialist team was mobilised again but sea conditions deteriorated and visibility was too poor to have any chance of finding it.

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Pictures of the whale, posted on the Forth Marine Mammals group on social media, have drawn several concerned comments.

Claire Sandilands said: “Wow - someone did think there was something unusual in the water behind the whale when we saw it in Kinghorn! They obviously had eagle eyes! Hope that it has broken free by now.”

Jenny McNeill said: “Hopefully it’s either managed to get free or a positive sighting tomorrow and they can get her free.”

Mr Smith, who is also area co-ordinator for both the Fife & Stirling and Tayside branches of the BDMLR, said the weekend weather forecast is poor visibility but confirmed the team will be back searching next week.

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He says it’s not that uncommon for humpback whales to get caught up in ropes and other fishing gear because of the huge size of their large fluke and flippers.

And he stressed that local fisherman have been coooperating fully with them to help free the creature.

Other such incidents in recent years have taken place off the coast of Helmsdale, Dunbar and Loch Eriboll on the north coast of Scotland.

It is not known for certain which part of the whale the creel buoy is snagged on.

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Humpback whales can grow to more than 40ft in size and their presence off the Fife coast in the early months of 2017 and 2018 drew plenty of visitors.

Members of the specialist large whale disentanglement team must first go through initial training to deal with smaller sea life such as seals and dolphins, before advanced training for whales.

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