A 40-foot-long humpback whale that was caught up in fishing gear off Mount Desert Island was freed from the entanglement late Saturday afternoon, according to the head of a whale-watching boat that first spotted the animal on Friday.

Zak Klyver, the lead guide for Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co., said rescuers had to cut away line that was wrapped around the whale’s tail 30 times. That was finally completed about 5 p.m. Saturday, Klyver said, and the rescuers said the whale, believed to be about 11 years old, swam off quickly after being freed from the last of the lines.

The whale, known as Spinnaker in the whale-watching community, was spotted by the Atlanticat, a Bar Harbor Whale Watch excursion boat carrying about 270 passengers, around 1 p.m. Friday, roughly 2 miles north of Mount Desert Rock and about 22 miles south of Bar Harbor.

The animal was breathing hard and in obvious distress, with a patch on its back where the fishing lines had rubbed the skin away, according to the rescue team, which included the Maine Marine Patrol, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Klyver said Saturday that rescuers did not believe the wound on the whale’s back was serious. He said officials have asked whale-watching boats in the area to take photographs of Spinnaker if they encounter him in the next few days.

The Maine Marine Patrol responded to the scene Friday and was able to cut away a lot of net and gear from Spinnaker’s head, flippers and body, but its tail remained entangled in the gear, which appeared to be a combination of gill nets and lobster lines, Klyver said.

The marine patrol left at dusk Friday after rigging up buoys to take the weight of the nets off the animal. Rescue workers also attached a telemetry buoy to Spinnaker to locate the whale in case it was able to move and they returned to try to finish the job of disentangling the whale early Saturday.

Scott Landry of the Center for Coastal Studies, who is an expert in disentangling whales, and Colin McDonald of the Maine Marine Patrol led the effort to free the whale, Klyver said. He said they worked from boats drawn up alongside the whale and didn’t dive.

Neither was available for comment Saturday night, Klyver said, but they may discuss the effort Sunday or put out a statement with more details then.

Klyver said Spinnaker, whose unique dorsal fins were first photographed in 2004, was identified by the Center for Coastal Studies, which keeps a catalog of humpback whales.

Spinnaker was previously freed from an entanglement in 2006 about 20 miles from Saturday’s location.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]

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