Whales face major threats from plastic and fishing gear entanglements and have been turning up injured or dead in record numbers, with a 300% increase in humpback entanglements in the last 5 years. In a never-before-filmed sequence, witness a group dedicated to disentangling whales as they undergo the dangerous process of trying to cut free a whale trapped by a rope while not harming themselves.
- [Narrator] It's August the 8th.
Fisherman have found a whale in trouble.
- Roger that.
- [Narrator] We joined a team of three small boats and a coastguard escort, heading out into the open sea.
No crew has ever filmed a disentanglement here before.
It took us hours to reach the whale.
The whale is trapped by a rope attached to fishing gear on the sea bed.
The team thinks it could have been like this for weeks.
- They're approaching the whale now, Tim.
- [Fisherman] We're trying to get inclined where the floater is jammed.
- [Pieter] There are a few things I've ever done that are as dangerous as disentangling whales. You don't know what this animal is thinking and feeling. And it may lash out at you. You know the animal is scared, it's frightened, it might think of you as a threat.
And it's going to defend itself against the threat.
People have been killed disentangling whales.
I know of three just in the last few decades.
And so we absolutely insist that nobody even attempt it if they don't have a thorough understanding of what they're doing.
- [Fisherman] All right I think we're deep enough, I'm going to pull in.
- [Second Fisherman] Yeah we might get a reaction out of the animal.
- [Narrator] The rope has cut deep into the whale.
- Okay that was a stressed blow.
- [Narrator] We're out there being very sensitive to this fate of this animal, listening to its blows.
Are they stressful or are they relaxed?
(whale blows) - Stressed blow. - [Fisherman] Stressed blow.
- [Fisherman] He knows that we're here. Be mindful of the flukes!
- [Fisherman] Hey Peter, it's underneath the jungle and the body of the whale.
- [Pieter] Okay then what you can do is you can drop it.
- [Fisherman] Drop it.
- [Woman Fisherman] Drop it on the right side.
- [Pieter] Drop it on the right side of the whale.
[Pieter] It's a very anxious period of time And it's not comfortable.
- [Pieter] Step back if you can.
(whale blows) - [Fisherman] Loops are underneath the bow.
- [Pieter] Pull them up.
- [Fisherman] Okay we're above the flukes right now.
- [Narrator] With the weather turning, the team is running out of time. But Peter judges that the whale is relaxed enough to move in for the cut.
- [Pieter] Do you have your safety knife?
- [Narrator] At this point Pieter is attached by a rope to an animal larger than a T-Rex, just feet from it's biggest weapon, its tail.
Pieter makes the cut.
- [Pieter] She'll dive, the flotation may pull it through.
- [Narrator] As the whale swims away, the rope pulls out of its tail.
- It's going through now. Almost there.
- [Narrator] And after weeks joined to the sea floor, it's free.
- [Pieter] The whale is now free.
- [Fisherman] Free!
- [Pieter] Like a huge emotional rush that we accomplished the task, everybody's safe.
And I don't have to worry about it anymore.
Although the animal's tail was deeply compromised, there's at least a chance in there that it will now survive.
- [Pieter] It was kind of a release. The adrenaline was flowing away, realizing that we had done something that was, without question, good.