A Blue Whale off the coast of California. Photo by Mike Baird via Wikimedia Commons.
A blue whale similar to the one being sought off Dana Point. Photo by Mike Baird via Wikimedia Commons.

Experts made progress Monday attempting to free a blue tangled in fishing gear off Dana Point, but they were unable to complete the efforts by nightfall.

The whale was spotted about three miles off Dana Point this morning, dragging what appeared to be a crab pot or a similar type of commercial fishing equipment, according to Michael Milstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

With lines wrapped around the whale’s front flippers, a crew of NOAA experts and trained volunteers have been trying to help free the creature using special equipment operated from nearby boats, but it is too dangerous to send in divers.

Milstein said the team removed some of the lines, but was unable to complete the work by nightfall.

“This is the first time we’ve ever tried to untangle a blue whale before off the West Coast,” Milstein said. “We have been able to cut some of the lines off the whale, but the pectoral flippers are difficult to reach, and we haven’t been able to get it all, so the whale is still tangled.”

Despite dragging the fishing gear, Milstein said the whale still seems to be “quite mobile” and officials believe it is the same 80-foot creature that was sighted Sunday about 30 miles off the San Diego shoreline.

Efforts were stopped at nightfall for the safety of the rescuers, Milstein said. The team will have to try to relocate the whale in the morning to continue the work.

“We’re concerned,” about the whale’s safety, Milstein said. “The fact that this is tangled on the whale’s flippers isn’t good, and the longer it takes us to do this the more skittish the whale is going to get.”

It is rare for blue whales to become tangled in fishing gear because they usually do not forage for food so close to shore, Milstein said.

As the largest animals in the world, Milstein said whales usually often break free from obstacles on their own, so this is an unusual case. However, it is the second time in past year a blue whale caught in fishing gear has been spotted off of the California coast, he said.

— City News Service 

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