A minke whale entangled in fishing gear 40 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard was freed Sunday by the Center for Coastal Studies Marine Animal Entanglement Response.

Fishing line was wrapped around the whale's jaw. NOAA permit #18786. — Courtesy Center for Coastal Studies

First spotted late in the afternoon on July 3 by a passing mariner, the 15-foot whale was floating at the surface of the water, constricted to swimming in small circles with its lower jaw tightly wrapped in rope, according to a press release from the Center for Coastal Stuidies, a non-profit organization based in Provincetown. The rope was attached to fishing gear at the bottom of the sea floor. The press release said the whale was very wary of boats and submerged when approached.

The delayed response in freeing the whale was due to poor weather conditions in the area on July 4. On Sunday, the entanglement response team was able to pull up next to the whale using a small inflatable boat and disentangled the whale by using a control rope on the entangling gear and a hook-shaped knife at the end of a long pole. Though it sustained some injuries, the whale quickly swam away once it was freed and responders said they expected it to heal.

“I think the whale is probably doing well today; it may be a little sore from being entangled for so many days, but overall it looked to be in good condition once we released it,” responder Jenn Tackaberry said in the press release.

Minke whales are the second smallest baleen whales, with males averaging 23 feet and females 26 feet in length. Common sights off the coast of New England, they do not raise their flukes out of the water when they dive, rarely breach, and can stay submerged for as long as 20 minutes.

Cathrine Macort of the Center for Coastal Studies said the organization predominately deals with disentangling whales, and the amount of entanglements they respond to varies throughout the year. The number increases in the summer due to both more fishing gear in the water and more people out boating.

“We actually rely on people fishing and boating out there to report entanglements,” she said.

Boaters are urged to report any entanglement sightings of whales, sea turtles and other marine animals in the waters off Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire to the Marine Animal Entanglement Response hot line, 1-800-900-3622, or the U.S. Coast Guard, and to stand by the animal at a safe distance until trained responders arrive.