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Entangled humpback whale cleared of marine debris off Maui

The line was tangled with various kinds of marine debris that accumulates in the waters around Hawaii.
Credit: AP
This photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows an entangled humpback whale in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary off Maui. The female humpback, traveling with a male and a calf, was freed on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. (M. Lammers/NOAA via AP) (MMHSRP Permit # 18786-06)

MAUI, Hawaii — A female humpback whale traveling with a male and a calf has been freed after it was found entangled in a line with a large bundle of marine debris attached.

The whale was freed Monday while swimming in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary off Maui, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement Tuesday. 

The calf and male weren't entangled.

There was more than 500 feet (152 meters) of line that was wrapped tightly around the humpback's head.

"Once freed, the mother and her calf went into resting behavior, with the calf tucking under the mother’s chin. The successful response increased the survival chances for both the mother and her calf," NOAA said in a statement.

The line was tangled with various kinds of marine debris that accumulates in the waters around Hawaii.

“The debris included a dozen different types of lines and netting," the statement said, with at least 30 feet (9.14 meters) of thick line estimated to be at least 1 1/2 inches (3.8 centimeters) thick. “While the gear sunk out of reach and couldn’t be recovered, responders obtained critical documentation of the removed gear to determine its possible origins.”

It is unclear what kind of penalties the original owners of the netting could face.

It is a federal crime to approach a humpback whale and the response team was working under a special federal permit.

The rescue comes a week after a review of academic research found that plastic pollution at sea is reaching worrying levels and will continue to grow even if significant action is taken now to stop such waste from reaching the world's oceans. 

The review by Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute, commissioned by environmental campaign group WWF, examined almost 2,600 research papers on the topic to provide an overview ahead of a United Nations meeting later this month.

The group hopes the international agency will develop frameworks for companies to follow in order to prevent more plastic from reaching the ocean. 

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