By Katie Reilly
(Reuters) - Two incidents of humpback whales getting tangled in ropes off the U.S. East Coast in the past week, one triggering a great white shark attack, spurred scientists on Monday to renew calls for fishing methods that don't threaten the endangered species.
A hogtied humpback, already bitten by a 15-foot shark that was stalking it and preparing for another attack, was spotted on Saturday by researchers working in the Atlantic Ocean about 5 miles off Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
Carefully moving in, scientists and rescuers were able to cut the rope and free the whale, which was able to swim away. The shark had lost interest during the rescue process.
"Because of the very, very large shark, it was an especially stressful disentanglement," said Scott Landry, director of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response team, which rescued the whale about 5 miles from Provincetown, Massachusetts.
"Had we not found that animal, I don't think it would be alive today," Landry said.
The whale was the sixth to be freed out of 11 entanglements this year between Canada's Bay of Fundy and Florida, the center said.
Another humpback whale trapped in fishing lines was spotted by a tour boat captain off the Jersey Shore last Thursday. The whale was reported to be in good health, but was not rescued and has not been sighted since, said Bob Schoelkopf, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in New Jersey.
Entanglements are caused typically by buoys and ropes, Landry said. The whale in Massachusetts was tied from mouth to tail, forcing its body to curve into a C-shape, a position that made it more vulnerable to the shark.
"If you have rope and you have whales mixing around in the same environment, you're going to have entanglements," said Landry, calling for research into fishing techniques that are safer for whales.
"This is not a local problem, this is an every ocean problem," Landry said.
(Reporting by Katie Reilly; Editing by Peter Galloway)