Humpback whale rescued from fishing ropes off Cornish coast

Humpback whale fishing ropes cornwall Ropes were seen digging into the whale. Image courtesy of Grampus Campus/Facebook.

Rescue teams have saved a large humpback whale that got caught in fishing ropes off the coast of Cornwall, UK.

The whale, known as Ivy, became entangled in the ropes in Cornwall’s Mounts Bay, between Mousehole and Newlyn, on Easter Sunday (31 March 2024). The struggling whale was first spotted by a concerned fishing vessel, which reported it to Marine Strandings Network.

Marine Discovery Penzance, a wildlife-watching tour that was in the area, also saw the whale shortly afterwards.

Hannah Wilson, co-owner of the tour group, tells ITV News: “[The whale was ] stuck fast, motionless, breathing only every three to four minutes, which isn’t too bad.

“You know if they’re panting or breathing every minute that’s bad, but its breathing was fairly calm, but it was very stationary. So we don’t know how long it had been.”

Humpback whale fishing ropes cornwall
The whale, known as Ivy, was eventually freed. Image courtesy of Penlee Lifeboat.

She adds that her team felt “helpless” but could not intervene due to choppy conditions.

Later the same evening, a volunteer crew from Penlee Lifeboat managed to cut the whale free.

Wilson adds: “It’s incredible what the guy at the helm achieved because it was properly rough. By then there was steep short chop, poor visibility, the whale started moving by this point.

“It was very impressive what he did. They cut the crucial rope, and the whale moved off, and that was that.”

Dan Jarvis, from British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), tells the BBC that the ropes were wrapped between the whale’s head and dorsal fin, and the whale was being weighed down by the rope. He adds that the large mammal was “lucky” it could still surface to breathe; otherwise, it could have had a “very different outcome”.

Jarvis emphasised to the BBC that attempts to free an animal of this size can be “incredibly risky”.

“I really can’t understate how dangerous this potentially could be,” he says. “Experienced rescuers in other parts of the world, like Canada, have been killed doing this type of rescue.”

In a statement, Penlee Lifeboat confirmed its crew “cut the ropes” and with a “thrash of its tail” the whale was freed.

“Everyone came together for the greater good and was on standby waiting to hear what was to be done,” writes Constance Morris, on the local community interest group Grampus Campus.

“But this does highlight our wildlife’s plight. This was right on the outdoor step, and we could have lost her. She swam away with cuts and was a little bit weak.

She adds: “But hopefully, we won’t be seeing her wash up, becoming another entanglement statistic.”

In 2023, a team of trained responders successfully freed a juvenile humpback whale in coastal waters off Alaska, after it was found entangled in a 300lb crab pot.

NOAA Fisheries received reports of a severely entangled whale in coastal waters near Gustavus, Alaska. A quick response by a dedicated team of trained responders — involving planes, drones, vessel- and shore-based efforts — helped free the stricken mammal.

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