Whale rescue off Kaikoura coast

Department of Conservation —  17/11/2014

The Kaikoura large whale disentanglement team was in action last month working to free a humpback whale from a cray pot line entangling it. A roughening sea and a feisty whale made it a difficult task. DOC’s Trish Grant tells the story…

Young humpback whale entangled in a crayfish pot.

Young humpback whale entangled in a crayfish pot

When a report came in, of a young humpback whale caught in cray pot line off Kaikoura, the DOC team specially trained in techniques for disentangling whales went to its aid.

The team uses a technique called kegging to free whales. It involves latching a grappling hook with rope attached onto the entangling material.

Floats are then attached to slow the whale down. The aim is to tire the whale, so it’s safer to work on.

The team then edges closer by boat, and reaches over with a long pole and curved knife to cut away the material entangling the whale.

The DOC team approach the humpback whale.

The DOC team, specially trained in techniques for disentangling whales, approach the humpback

The procedures used for disentangling whales are based on those of similar agencies in Australia and the United States. The team are well trained for this task and always work slowly and carefully with safety being the paramount consideration.

DOC team attaching floats to slow the whale.

Attaching floats to slow the whale

This whale had six bladders attached and hardly slowed down! It was also reluctant to surface, and really feisty, making the job even harder.

Fortunately, the team persevered, and eventually most of the rope was able to be cut away.

The DOC team cutting the whale free.

Cutting the whale free

Happily, the whale was seen looking healthier, and swimming more strongly, in subsequent days.

The whale disentanglement team watches and assesses whale behaviour and have learned to read the signs. If a whale tenses up, it means it’s about to thrash around. Then, two minutes after it has thrashed around, it is exhausted and it’s safe to start cutting away the rope.

Since 2000, there have been 30 reports of entangled whales around the country, the majority from Kaikoura.

2 responses to Whale rescue off Kaikoura coast


    Fantastic. We were able to see this beautiful whale when were on holiday in Kaikoura and upset to see it breaching to try to free itself. We are so thrilled to find out that you have been successful. What a team!!! Well done!!!


    Good effort!