National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials were hoping Tuesday that someone will again see a whale in Orange County who got tangled up in fishing gear so the agency can make another attempt to free it.
A team of experts attempted to cut the lines hobbling the 80-foot whale in Dana Point on Monday, but they were unsuccessful, according to Michael Milstein of the NOAA.
“We’re basically hoping the whale is sighted again so it gives us a chance to make another attempt, but right now we don’t know its location,” Milstein said.
“They were out there most of the afternoon and evening yesterday, and they made several attempts to cut the line, but they weren’t able to get close enough to get the cutters on the line and remove it,” Milstein said. “The size of the whale and the way the ropes were entangled it made it especially challenging.”
At one point the team was able to get a telemetry buoy on the whale that could be used to track it, but they removed it for fear that if they cut the fishing lines they would also lose the buoy, Milstein said.
“There are enough people out there that we’re hoping somebody will see it again and we’ll make another attempt,” Milstein said.
The whale was spotted about three miles off Dana Point on Monday morning, dragging what appeared to be a crab pot or a similar type of commercial fishing equipment,
With lines wrapped around the whale’s front flippers, a crew of NOAA experts and trained volunteers had been trying to help free the creature using special equipment operated from nearby boats, but it was too dangerous to send in divers.
Milstein said Monday night that 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.”
Milstein said officials believe it is the same 80-foot creature that was sighted Sunday about 30 miles off the San Diego shoreline.
“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.
Milstein said the whales — the largest animals in the world — often break free from obstacles on their own, so this is an unusual case. However, it is the second time in the past year a blue whale caught in fishing gear has been spotted off the California coast, he said.
— City News Service
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