Marine mammal experts come to rescue of entangled humpback calf

A well-known humpback whale calf named Herbert, who got himself entangled in a recreational crab pot line near Juneau, was able to shake himself free, thanks to NOAA marine mammal responders who made a couple of strategic cuts in the gear. 

“This whale is this year’s calf of a well-known Juneau area humpback whale,” said Suzie Teerlink, assistant large whale entanglement response coordinator with NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska regional office. “The mother is named Juneauite (SEAK #1447). She earned her name from her persistent preference to feed near Juneau each summer,” Teerlink said. “Calves are typically named following a theme on the mother’s name, and all of Juneauite’s calves follow local Juneau place names. This year’s calf, Herbert, is named after the Herbert Glacier and because it has white flukes.” 

Herbert is not the first of Juneauite’s calves to become entangled. 

In 2016 Juneauite’s calf Lincoln was also entangled in line and floats, but then was successfully disentangled by NOAA responders in nearly the same location. 

NOAA biologist John Moran, of the Auke Bay Laboratories, discovered the entanglement while he was out on the water doing research. Teerlink and David Gann from the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Office and Fred Sharpe of the Alaska Whale Foundation were then shuttled out by a local whale-watching firm to join Moran to further assist. 

They found Herbert entangled in a crab ring, with the line thought to be entangled on the pectoral fin and/or through the calf’s mouth. The rescue crew coordinated with other marine mammal experts virtually, including Ed Lyman at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. 


The team waited patiently for the right opportunity to make a couple of cuts to the gear, using specialized cutting equipment designed to keep responders at a safe distance from the whale. They were able to remove much of the gear and remained optimistic that Herbert could shake loose any remaining section of the line.  

On July 20, three days after NOAA came to Herbert’s aid, a drone assessment confirmed that he was able to do just that. 

The team now plans to continue monitoring Herbert throughout the summer. 

“If you see Juneauite and her calf, give them a little extra space after this traumatic experience, and if you happen to notice any unusual behavior, please call our hotline,” said Teerlink advised.