Humpback whale PHI (left) is seen in this Sept. 23, 2017 photo alongside Niagara near Campbell River. Photo: Jackie Hildering, Marine Education and Research Society, Marine Mammal License MML-42

Attempts to disentangle humpback off north Vancouver Island fail

PHI, a regularly seen in the Campbelll River area, was last seen heading north from Port Hardy

A Humpback whale often seen near Campbell River may be in distress.

PHI was last seen heading north from Port Hardy on July 25 with a yellow rope through her mouth and over her back.

According to the Port McNeill-based Marine Education and Research Society (MERS), PHI’s entanglement was first observed on July 23 in the Campbell River/Quadra Island area.

A team from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans attempted to untangle the whale on July 23 and 24, but ran out of daylight north of Sayward.

PHI’s entanglement is complicated as there is no rope or net trailing behind her, said Jackie Hildering, Humpback whale researcher.

“The problem with PHI’s entanglement is there is very little dragging behind her,” said Hildering. “It’s virtually impossible to get hold of the gear because there’s so little to attach to.”

Normally, teams are able to attach a tracker to gear trailing from the whale or attach floation to slow them down. But teams following PHI have not had luck so far.

PHI was spotted again on July 25 near Port McNeill. A response team attempted to attach a grapple and tag onto PHI, but again ran out of daylight north of Port Hardy.

She was last seen heading north from there, but MERS said she may return to the Campbell River/Quadra Island/Hornby Island area, where she’s most often seen.

“She bolted,” said Hildering.

PHI was already an adult when she was first documented near Victoria in 2014.

Hildering, who helped nickname PHI – naming her after the markings on her tail which look like the letters P, H and I – said that since 2017 she has been a regular around the Campbell River area.

While PHI is moving well now, MERS is concerned that over time, the entanglement could lead to chafing, infection and may impede her ability to feed or move.

“There’s a perception by people that whales are in immediate risk when they’re entangled,” said Hildering. “Most often it’s the long-term impacts of entanglement; the fact that they can’t move properly, they can’t feed properly.”

Prelimary research from MERS and the Fisheries Department indicates that approximately 50 per cent of the Humpback whales observed in B.C. have evidence of scarring from entanglements.

If you spot PHI or any other entangled whale, MERS is encouraging you to call the Incident Reporting Line at 1-800-465-4336, or report over VHF channel 16 if outside of cell range.

RELATED: Humpback whale safety campaign launched as population booms on B.C. coast

RELATED: Code of conduct will ‘ensure safety’ of whales, say Campbell River whale watching companies

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The Marine Education and Research Society is searching for an entangled Humpback whale nicknamed ‘PHI’. She was last seen heading north from Port Hardy on July 25. Marine Education and Research Society/Facebook

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