Last year, Foggy the humpback whale was rescued off the coast of Nova Scotia after becoming tangled in lines from abandoned lobster gear in the Bay of Fundy.
The "ghost" fishing gear was wrapped around the whale's body, mouth and tail, and across its blowhole.
Local whale-watching crews were worried when Foggy wasn’t seen again after being freed from the gear last September.
But on Thursday, crew members from Pirates Cove Whale and Seabird Cruises — who called for help when they found Foggy being dragged down by the rogue fishing gear — were elated when they spotted the female whale's distinctive hook-shaped dorsal fin.
"The second she dove and brought her tail out of the water, there was no doubt that it was Foggy. She looked great, she’s plump and healthy looking, and acting like a normal humpback," said Chris Callaghan, a tour guide with Pirate’s Cove.
"We were elated, we were just so happy to know that she had survived and that she’s back and that she’s doing OK. They are like friends, certainly not pets, but you just get to know them as individuals and it’s just nice to see that they’re doing fine."
Foggy was in distress when the crew from Pirate’s Cove came across the humpback and another whale named Grommet last September.
'She definitely would have drowned'
After assessing the situation, Todd Sollows, a captain who had worked with a whale disentanglement team in the Bay of Fundy, called the Campobello Whale Rescue Team for help. The whale disentanglement group from New Brunswick arrived a few hours later.
"She had one rope right through her mouth and they just basically cut that short on each end. They decided not to pull it out of her mouth because they thought that could damage the baleen that the whales use to strain their food from the water. They figured that would be just a little piece of dental floss to her and she’d be able to work it out with her tongue," said Callaghan.
"And then they started cutting away at the lines that were around her head, across her blowhole, and that’s when the truly amazing thing happened, in that the exact instant that they cut that final line that was attaching her to the lobster traps, the whale Grommet — that had stayed by her side the whole afternoon — immediately took a deep dive and then just burst from the water in a full, spectacular breach."
Callaghan said she suspects Grommet was celebrating Foggy’s freedom.
Foggy was first spotted in the Bay of Fundy in 1987 when the whale's mother, Bermuda, brought her to these waters.
"The humpbacks that come here come back year after year, because their mothers brought them here, because this is the particular feeding area that they come to. There’s several feeding areas in the North Atlantic but whales go to a particular one, depending on where their mothers brought them when they were calves," said Callaghan.
"She definitely would have drowned, there’s no way she could have gotten out of that gear by herself."
Humpback whales are easily identified by their white bellies, dark-coloured backs and massive pectoral fins, which can measure up to 4.5 metres in length — the longest appendages in the animal kingdom.
According to Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the whales migrate through Canadian waters twice per year and are a common sight in Maritime waters during the summer.
The fluke or tail fin of each whale has a unique pattern, similar to human fingerprints, that scientists and observers use to catalogue and identify individual whales.