A skilled rescue team managed to free a humpback whale tangled in fishing rope off the B.C. coast this week, and the incredible effort was caught on camera.

A group of recreational boaters spotted the distraught whale Sunday night near Powell River, where it was struggling to breathe after becoming bound in a kilometre of rope from its tail to its mouth.

“They saw this humpback, which they thought was really neat, but then quickly realized this animal was in distress and it wasn’t moving,” said Paul Cottrell of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“It was basically hog tied.”

Fortunately, the boaters did the right thing and reported the whale. Early the next morning, a team of volunteers, DFO staff and Coast Guard members located the cetacean and got to work on the hours-long task of setting it free.

“It was one of the worst entanglements I’ve ever seen,” Cottrell said. “The animal would have died.”

Capturing their efforts on a GoPro camera, the team started strategically cutting at ropes, working their way toward the tail.

Eventually, thanks to their skilled hands, the injured whale was able to swim away.

Cottrell said whale sightings in B.C. waters are on the rise, which is particularly good news for the humpback species, whose population is still recovering from years of commercial fishing.

Whale watching companies are also having a banner year as customers flock to see nature at its finest. Vancouver Whale Watch in Steveston said it’s recorded 74 straight days of sightings in a row.

“That’s our best record so far. We had a stretch last year of maybe 55 days,” owner Cedric Towers said.

Sadly, the population rebound is coinciding with a rise in entanglements.

Cottrell said the public can help out by always reporting distressed cetaceans to the DFO. Actually rescuing an entangled whale takes a meticulous, trained approach, he added, and people should never try to free the animals alone.

“Don’t actually engage or cut anything from a large whale,” he said. “We’ve had that in the past and it hasn’t ended well.”

To report a sighting, call the B.C. Marine Mammal Response Network at 1-800-465-4336 or the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network at 1-800-ISAWONE.

With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Scott Roberts