Boat captains all along the coast were being asked Monday to be on the lookout for an entangled gray whale that appears to have some sort of metal frame, possibly a crab trap, around its head.
The whale was spotted about 3:30 p.m. Saturday about two miles south of Dana Point Harbor by Capt. Frank Brennan of Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching, according to Justin Viezbicke of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Brennan was on a whale-watching trip when he saw the animal as he neared San Juan Rock, and it was heading north.
He alerted Viezbicke, the NOAA’s marine mammal stranding network coordinator, along with Capt. Dave Anderson of Capt. Dave’s Dolphin Safari, who leads Orange County’s whale disentanglement team and has been involved in dozens of rescues over the years.
Anderson again spotted the whale just outside Newport Beach Harbor at sunset but did not deploy his tracking buoy because of the unusual way the whale’s head was caught in the trap.
Viezbicke said the type of gear entangling the whale was something he has not seen before.
“I’ve been doing this a number of years — 15 years — and this is the first time I’ve seen anything like this,” Viezbicke told City News Service. “The big challenge with this one is it’s metal.”
The whale rescuers’ tools are designed to cut line and rope, not metal, Viezbicke said.
“We’d have to figure out a whole different way,” he said, adding there are additional challenges because the metal is stuck to the whale’s head.
“The head is the hardest part to work off of — no matter the entanglement,” he said, noting that whales instinctively dive down when approached by rescuers.
Rescuers did not want to attach a telemetry buoy to the whale because there was concern it would add “drag” on the metal and cut into the whale’s skin.
It’s also been difficult to determine the whale’s age as just the head has been seen, Viezbicke said. There’s a concern that if it’s a young whale still growing, the metal will dig deeper into the skin and cause more problems, he said.
Rodger Healy, a Capistrano Beach lobster fisherman, said photos of the wire frame looked industrial.
“It’s too big to be trap gear,” he said, adding, “It looks like it could be a rack to suspend oysters or mussels.”
On Sunday morning, boat captains continued to look for the entangled whale in Los Angeles County. Dense fog made the search more difficult, Viezbicke said, but efforts to find it will continue. Boat captains who work along Northern California have been notified, he said.
People who are out on the water and see a whale in distress were urged to call (877) SOS-WHALE, and to take pictures if possible.
—City News Service