September 20, 2018
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Whale seen struggling in fishing net in Gulf of Maine ‘appears to be OK,’ expert says

Blue Ocean Society photo courtesy of Portsmouth Herald
Blue Ocean Society photo courtesy of Portsmouth Herald
The humpback whale known as "Owl" is seen caught in a fishing net off the Isles of Shoals Thursday afternoon.
By Elizabeth Dinan, Portsmouth Herald
Updated:

A whale caught in a fishing net last week appeared fine when seen swimming in the area over the weekend, said Dianna Schulte, research coordinator and co-founder of the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation.

Named “Owl,” the 32-year-old humpback whale “appears to be OK physically,” she elaborated.

Owl was entangled in the fishing net deployed off a “purse-seiner” vessel Aug. 30 off the Isles of Shoals, a small group of islands straddling the border between Maine and New Hampshire, according to multiple witnesses. The witnesses included 85 people aboard a Granite State Whale Watch tour, led by captain Peter Reynolds.

[Dozens ‘horrified’ watching humpback whale thrashing to escape fishing net in Gulf of Maine]

Reynolds said Friday that Owl was one of 12 humpback whales in the area at the time, that the fishing net was intentionally set in spite of them and he thought Owl was going to die while trapped and thrashing in the net for about 50 minutes. He said the fishing crew continued to try to haul the net while Owl was caught and “in obvious distress,” while his passengers watched and were “horrified.”

Schulte said Friday the crew on the whale watch boat had a combined 65-plus years of whale-watching experience, including three Coast Guard licensed captains on board, and they had “never seen such a blatant whale harassment case.” She said the incident was reported and is under investigation by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration law enforcement.

On Tuesday, John Ewald, NOAA public affairs director, told the Portsmouth Herald, “As longstanding practice, NOAA Fisheries does not comment on potential or ongoing investigations.”

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