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Rescuers Free Entangled Gray Whale

Rescuers have freed an entangled gray whale off the South Bay coast.

Rescuers freed an entangled gray whale off the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Redondo Beach on Thursday afternoon.

The whale, which was "making slow circles and really struggling," was cut free at about 1:30 p.m., said Brad Sawyer, the captain of the whale-watching boat out of King Harbor.

"When freed, it took off at high speed, swimming fast!" wrote an administrator of the American Cetacean Society - Los Angeles Chapter page on Facebook. "Its entanglement wound (was) not severe."

The administrator noted that the whale has "an outstanding chance of surviving."

"We feel pretty confident that the rest of the netting will fall off," said Kelli Lewis of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach.

Sawyer said they nicknamed the whale "Bob," after Sawyer's brother who died two days ago.

"We have decided to call this whale Bob as a way to honor my brother," Sawyer said.

Volunteers with the Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project outside the Point Vicente Interpretive Center spotted the whale at about 9:10 a.m. Thursday. The Voyager arrived shortly thereafter, and anchored about one mile off Rocky Point to keep track of the whale until rescuers arrived.

Rescuers believe the whale had rope from a lobster trap wrapped around its fluke.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach and Marine Animal Rescue collaborated on the rescue effort, with permission from the National Marine Fisheries Service. Baywatch Redondo and the Redondo Harbor Patrol also brought a group of divers at the scene to assess the situation.

"I could see they all had knives and were trying to decide about how best to free the whale," Sawyer said. "It reminds me of a scene out of Jaws. The whale (was) trying as hard as it (could) to pull the buoys under water but just (didn't) have the strength.”

Sawyer also noted that the area around the leviathan’s blowhole was pink and seemed irritated as opposed to its normal gray color.

The whale was first spotted Wednesday off the coast between Laguna Beach and Dana Point by a helicopter crew, Lewis said.

Captain Dave Anderson attached two buoys to the whale by nightfall Wednesday, but rescuers had to cease their efforts until daybreak due to weather conditions. The whale disappeared before it was spotted again, swimming with another whale off the Palos Verdes Peninsula on Thursday morning.

The mammal is a "sub adult"—older than a baby but not yet full grown.

Over the weekend, another gray whale was found entangled in netting outside Dana Point Harbor, and rescuers managed to cut away the netting and free it. Nevertheless, experts believe this whale was the same one later found dead in Long Beach.

Monica DeAngelis, a marine biologist with NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, told Pete Thomas Outdoors said that while it's unusual to have two whale entanglements in the same general area in less than a week, entanglements aren't uncommon. Between 2001 and 2010, people reported 78 entanglements off the California coast. Of the 78, 31 involved humpback whales; 19 involved gray whales; four involved fin whales; and one was a minke whale. The whale species was not identified in 22 of the reports.

—Meredith Skrzypczak, Nicole Mooradian and City News Service contributed to this report.

Jeff Ginsburg March 29, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Good job everybody! It's a whale of a day :)
Debbie March 30, 2012 at 05:54 AM
Is there a restriction against using this material that the whales keep getting tangled up in?? If not, shouldn't there be? We don't have whales on our ranches here in Texas, but we love the great creatures just the same!!
Nicole Mooradian (Editor) March 30, 2012 at 06:24 AM
Hi Debbie, It sounds as though the whale might have gotten entangled in the material while it was off the coast of Baja California.

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