ROCKPORT — A trapped, 18-foot-long minke whale almost became shark food off the coast of Rockport. Luckily, the Center for Coastal Studies of Provincetown was on hand to help it escape.

Rockport Harbormaster Scott Story said he received a call from a sailboater at 11:15 a.m. last Thursday regarding a whale in distress about 2 miles off the coast in Sandy Bay. Story went out to investigate and found the minke entangled in a buoy and high flyer belonging to a local fisherman. A high flyer is a vertical poles used by commercial fishermen to locate the beginning and end of a long fishing line.

"We were on scene (with the whale) when we reported it" to NOAA and the Center for Coastal Studies's Marine Animal Entanglement Response team, he continued, "and we stood by when (CSS) traveled up here from the Cape (Cod)."

The fisherman was also notified and was at the scene during the rescue. Representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were also present.

The MAER team arrived around 3 p.m. Using a small underwater camera from the its inflatable dingy, the team saw the bleeding minke whale thrashing about with a rope tied around its mouth and tail. Making matters worse, a hungry white shark was spotted patrolling the waters below, looking to pounce on an easy meal.

With the white shark nearby, the MAER team knew it was going to need a bigger boat.

"Our prime concern during these operations is human safety," said CSS Public Relations Manager Cathrine Macrot, "and in this case it was safer to approach the agitated whale (and shark) from the larger boat."

From aboard the CSS service boat Ibis, the team cut the rope around the whale's tail first followed by the one around its mouth. Once free, the panicked whale swam off as quick as it could. The shark left the area as well, according to Story.

Although white sharks typically congregate around Cape Cod, they are known to swim north to Cape Ann waters. Last month, a great white was seen lurking around the Dry Salvages off Rockport.

Despite these past two sightings, Rockport Harbormaster Rosemary Lesch said she hasn't noticed a large uptick in white sharks in the area. What she has noticed is the increased number of whale sightings, especially out by Sandy Bay. 

"The past couple of years we've had quite a few whales in our area," she said.

Minkes are common around North Atlantic waters and are known to swim near the shore during the summer months.

A portion of the whale's rescue was videotaped and can be found on the CCS Youtube page. It can be viewed here: youtu.be/WYpG8JORoJc.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.