A trapped humpback whale was recently freed from a salmon farm near Tofino.
In an announcement posted to its website, Cermaq Canada said the humpback was discovered by two employees inside the company’s Millar Channel farm site around 8 a.m. on Dec. 2 and that the employees immediately notified management and got to work on possible solutions to free the animal.
“The decision was made to remove two panels of the predator net and allow the whale to swim free of the cage on his or her own volition,” the announcement read. “During the predator net panel removal, precautions were taken to secure the predator net to ensure the whale would not become entangled, and shortly after the divers cleared the area, the whale swam out of the cage and moved away from the farm.”
Cermaq Canada Managing Director David Kiemele said the whale was not entangled or showing any signs of distress and was trapped for less than 18 hours. He added the Millar Channel cage did not contain any salmon at the time.
“There will be an investigation into how the whale entered into the cage system as the predator nets on sites are regularly inspected by divers to ensure there are no breaches or holes,” Kiemele said. “We are however very thankful for the quick actions and thinking of our crew and everyone who responded to the calls so quickly. Their fast action and thinking resulted in a positive outcome with no harm to the whale.”
He said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was notified and the company plans to share the results of its investigation with DFO.
Cermaq’s Sustainable Development Director Linda Sams added that the investigation’s results will also be shared with the Ahousaht First Nation.
“We have notified the Ahousaht leadership and Ahousaht Fisheries and we have committed to keeping them informed of the investigation and outcome, and the steps we will be taking to ensure this does not happen again,” Sams said.
Tofino-based environmental group Clayoquot Action believes the incident is an example of the dangers salmon farms are posing in local waters.
“We’re very, very, thankful that this animal is okay. Although, there’s really no way to tell what stress was caused on the whale or if there are any injuries to the whale, even though there were none visible,” Clayoquot Action co-founder Bonny Glambeck told the Westerly.
“I think that Cermaq just dodged a bullet in terms of this whale being okay. It could have very easily been injured. Certainly with other incidents, whales have been either injured or killed…They got off lucky on this one.”
She noted a humpback whale was found dead at Cermaq’s nearby Ross Pass farm site in 2013 and also cited a 2016 incident where 15 sea lions were shot by Cermaq employees because the animals were believed to be posing a risk to the salmon inside a Binns Island farm near Tofino.
“They have a history of harming sea mammals with their operations,” she said.
READ MORE: Fish farm culled 15 sea lions near Tofino
She added that she believes salmon farms are passing viruses and sea lice onto wild salmon populations, including the West Coast chinook that have been identified as a vital prey species for endangered southern resident killer whales.
“All of these problems could be solved by the farms moving onto land and getting out of the ocean,” she said.
The Westerly News reached out to Cermaq Canada for comment, but did not immediately hear back.