In whale news this week, a humpback in Cape Cod in the US found badly tangled in fishing rope has been given a fighting chance thanks to a Marine Animal Entanglement Response team from the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS).

Researchers from the CCS spotted the injured whale with rope running through its mouth and wrapped around its flukes. The animal was unable to swim properly and had already been preyed upon by an opportunistic shark that had taken a bite out of the humpback’s left flank.

According to Dr Jooke Robbins, CCS director of Humpback Whale Research, it’s rare to see sharks feeding on live whales and it’s clear that the rope turned the whale into a vulnerable target. “I have never seen it before here. They [sharks] are most likely to target incapacitated whales, sick individuals and otherwise vulnerable animals.”

The dramatic rescue took place under the watchful eye of a 15-foot shark that remained in the area, clearly hoping for a blubbery meal. From the safety of the boat, the response team used a hooked knife on the end of a long pole to cut through some of the rope, freeing up the humpback’s tail. Once the shark had moved off, an inflatable boat was used to pull up next to whale to remove the remaining rope.

The circling shark made things even trickier for the rescue team:

“This whale is very lucky,” according to Scott Landry, director of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response team. “It probably would have been killed by the shark if we had not freed it.” Landry hopes that the whale will make a full recovery, but explains that “even after disentangling a whale, it’s not guaranteed to survive.”