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Search for humpback whale entangled in debris off Hawaii

POIPU, HAWAII – A marine mammal rescue team is searching for an adult humpback whale entangled in debris off the coast of Hawaii.

First responders removed about 2,000 feet (600 meters) of heavy wire from the animal over the weekend while it was off the coast of Kauai, The Garden Island newspaper reported. Authorities took most of the equipment apart but were unable to remove all of them before the whale continued on its way.

Officials plan to try to find the whale and remove more sugar from it when possible. They will study the removed device to try to determine what it is and where it came from.

Large whales can become entangled in active or abandoned fishing gear or other lines and lines in the ocean. The drag from debris can cause whales to use more energy to swim. It can also make it harder for them to feed, potentially leading to starvation. Debris can also injure animals and cause infection.

The entangled whale was emaciated, light-colored and had rough skin, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. It has rusty patches of whale lice, indicating it is in great distress.

Graham Talaber, who lives in the Koloa community on Kauai, noticed the rope and a dark spot in the water while filming the green sea turtle from a drone-mounted camera on Sunday. After 10 to 15 minutes circling the area, his worries were confirmed when he saw a humpback at the end of a large net.

“It’s right there, right in front of you, this big, bus-sized animal struggling for its life,” Talaber said. He asked his father to warn NOAA.

The response team attached a satellite telemetry buoy to the whale, which would release on its own after about a week. The buoy signaled when the whale returned to Kauai waters on Wednesday but the team was unable to spot the whale.

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