A humpback whale was found with a fishing line wrapped around its mouth and dragging it roughly 15 meters (50 feet) behind it. The sighting triggered a coordinated response.

The entangled whale was found by tour boats taking part in a search operation looking for a humpback whale calf that appeared to have been separated from its mother near Lahaina, Maui.

After recognizing the desperate situation the young whale was in, the Ultimate Whale Watch tour vessel monitored the animal until the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary‘s research and response vessel could arrive on the scene to try and remove the line with the authorization of NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, who have experience removing gear from large marine animals.

Unfortunately though, the gauge line was so heavy it had become locked in the whale’s flesh, having cut in at the back of the mouth. Because of that, the rescuers were unable to pull or cut free the line without causing the whale further damage.

Instead, they decided to focus on the trailing line wrapped around the left pectoral fin, and it turned out to be a good decision: with careful cuts at the line, they were able to remove around 37 meters (120 feet) of gear. At that point, however, the distressed whale became “uncooperative” and the team decided that any further intervention could do more harm than good.

“Less than [10.6 meters) 35 feet of gear is believed to remain on the animal with all the wraps from the left pectoral flipper being removed, no potential for wraps to the tail, and little drag remaining,” explained NOAA in a press release. “While we have no way of knowing whether the animal will survive, its chances have been significantly improved. Mahalo to all that were part of the effort and the valuable roles that all played.”

Earth’s oceans are haunted by ghost fishing nets and lines, ones that have been lost or abandoned by fishermen. Any such net or line left in the water can pose a threat to marine life, this whale being a sad example.

Besides whales, ghost nets also entangle sea turtles, dolphins and porpoises, birds, sharks, seals, and more. They keep these animals from moving freely, causing injuries, and hindering mammals and birds in rising to the surface for air.

And since hundreds of animals can be caught in a single net, you can see just how disastrously huge this threat is.