Wildlife experts had to cut away hundreds of feet of commercial fishing line from an endangered wale off the coast of the US state of Georgia on Monday.
A crew doing aerial surveys for the Navy offshore near Jacksonville, Florida, spotted the whale dragging fishing line behind it on Sunday.
While 280ft of rope was successfully removed, some had to be left inside the whale’s mouth.
Only around 450 right whales remain in the wild, and each winter they migrate to the warmer waters off Georgia and Florida to give birth to their calves.
But entanglement in commercial fishing equipment and collisions threaten their survival.
The entangled whale spotted was a four-year-old male, which team members said is not surprising despite a misconception that only pregnant females and their babies migrate south at wintertime.
Clay George, a marine mammal biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) who was part of the team that helped the whale, said the incident was the first time since 2011 that a right whale snared in fishing gear had been spotted offshore in the south-east of the US.
The whale was about 40 miles offshore of Darien, Georgia on Monday when the Georgia DNR was able to manoeuvre a small boat close enough to cut away most of the rope.
Mr George and his colleagues helped the 30-foot whale by severing the three-quarters-inch fishing line using a grappling hook equipped with cutting blades. “We feel like what we did gives the whale a fighting chance to shed the remainder of the rope on its own,” said Mr George, who estimated the whale is still dragging about 20 feet of the rope woven with lead weights.
Florida officials responding by boat managed to cut away some of the rope and attach a tracking buoy to the end.