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Whale of an effort as heroes hang off boat to rescue humpback

Freed: The rescuers hang over the side of their boat to cut the rope. Below, the grateful humpback swims off PICTURES: NOEL HAWKINS/SWNS

THIS is the moment an exhausted humpback whale was rescued by a group of hero volunteers after being dragged to the seabed by a lobster pot.

The 39ft-long mammal, which had scarring on its back and tail, had spent a week struggling to keep its blowhole above water after getting tangled in fishing gear off Orkney.

Footage shows the whale, which could have travelled 4,500 miles from the Caribbean, fighting for its life.

Volunteers from British Divers Marine Life Rescue were alerted to its plight by a fisherman who returned from holiday on Tuesday last week to find his weighted lobster and crab pots off Westray Island had snared a whale. It was too risky for the team to get in the water to assess the situation in case they were dragged down.

Instead, they hung off the boat with their heads in the water.

Volunteer Noel Hawkins, 49, from Ullapool in the Highlands, said: ‘It was managing to lift its head up and down but it was quite distressed when we first got to it.

Weighed down: The humpback whale’s tail entangled in the lines of the lobster pot

‘It was trumpeting and breathing very fast. Once we started work, it did begin to be more still. That seems to be a bit of a humpback trick. I like to think that’s them knowing that they are getting help. We had to be really careful. It’s not just dangerous for us but it’s dangerous for the animal too.’

The whale was strong enough to lift the weight to get to the surface and breathe but was running out of energy.

Mr Hawkins, a communities manager with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, cut the whale free while hanging in the water as someone on the boat held his legs.

‘This one was quite a straight forward rescue, in terms of it was just on the tail,’ he said. ‘We had lots of local support. The fisherman himself was on hand to help us.’ The whale survived its ordeal to swim off into the deep.