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SANDY HOOK, N.J. (CBS) — Crews saved an entangled humpback whale off the coast of Sandy Hook on Wednesday afternoon. NOAA scientists didn’t think they would be able to save the whale after it first became entangled in November.

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Last November, the disentanglement team from the Center for Coastal Studies was able to cut the rope with partial success, but a “tight wrap of line remained” around the juvenile whale’s upper jaw. Crews tried to find the whale again but were unable to and as the animal grew, the line around its upper jaw tightened. The entanglement also wrapped around the whale’s eye and blowhole.

“If left alone, the animal had no chance,” said David Morin, the NOAA Fisheries Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator. “The whale would have died a slow and painful death. Even in response, the tight wrap left such a small area-about a foot or two wide-that we could cut.”

Crews work to save entangled whale off coast of Sandy Hook. (credit: NOAA)

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NOAA says when the whale turned up again during the summer, boat traffic over the Fourth of July initially blocked efforts to respond. When NOAA and their partners lined up equipment to get to the whale, it went missing again.

“But we now had all the people in place, less boat traffic, and ideal weather,” said Morin. “So we decided to take the chance.”

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A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter spotted the whale shortly after noon on Wednesday. Crews approached the whale on a small inflatable boat, and using a 30-foot pole with a hook-shaped knife at the end, they were able to successfully cut the line off the whale.

“The whale was resting in the middle of the shipping lanes at the entrance to New York Harbor. In many ways, this was more than we could have hoped for,” said Scott Landry of the Center for Coastal Services. “Some of the rope is still caught in the whale’s mouth, but removing that would be too dangerous for the whale. Given time, the whale should be able to shed that bit of rope.”

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NOAA says whale watchers out of New York will help monitor the animal’s progress.