Rescue continues to untangle a blue whale from fishing gear

- A team of experts made progress Monday attempting to free a blue tangled in fishing gear off Dana Point, but 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.

From Zohreen Adamjee

Here are some quick facts about the blue whale entangled off an Orange County Coast. FOX 11 interviewed Capt. Dave Anderson, who is one of the people leading the search and rescue efforts. He works in coordination with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


WHY ARE THERE STORIES ABOUT A WHALE ALL OVER THE NEWS? 

An 80 foot blue whale's tail, lower body, and possibly even its mouth were found entangled in 200 feet of rope attached to a crab trap 3 miles off the coast of Dana Point, Orange County Monday. Rescue crews tried untangling it, but its fluke tail was very low in the water (at least 20-30 feet) making it hard to cut the rope. 


SO WHERE IS THE WHALE NOW? 

No one knows. Crews tried putting a buoy-tracker on it Monday but doing so appeared to possibly jeopardize the rescue efforts. So they took it off. 


HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN ENTANGLED?

I would guess about a few weeks because the whale was not agitated. When a first gets entangled, it thrashes around to get itself out. Also the gear was from Morro Bay, so the whale had to have time to come down from that area. 


HOW LONG CAN IT LIVE IF IT STAYS ENTANGLED? 

It likely can't eat right now, but whales can sometimes go many months without eating. What will likely kill it is exhaustion and damage from the rope, so maybe another month. It's going to be a very long painful death. It's also having a tough time moving. Normally blue whales travel at about 4-5 knots. This whale was probably moving at 2-3 knots.


WHY DID IT GET SO CLOSE TO CRAB NETS IN THE FIRST PLACE? 

Some people think it's because of warmer waters but it's tricky to say that because warmer waters typically drive away some of the fish the whales feed on.


HOW OFTEN DOES THIS HAPPEN? 

This is the second blue whale that we know of that's been entangled off the coast of CA. But it's the first time my crew has been involved in actually trying to disentangle one. 


HOW RARE ARE BLUE WHALES? 

Blue whales are endangered animals. We have 22 hundred blue whales off of California - the biggest concentration in the world. At the very most, there may be a total of 10 thousand in the world. Nearly a thousand dolphins and whales die every day around the world because of fishing gear entanglement and nets.


WHAT ARE THE ODDS CREWS GET TO THE WHALE?

Not likely. It could be anywhere. It could be really close to here. We just don't know. I believe with all the media attention, and the 4th of July coming up with more boaters, there's a good chance this whale could be found again and saved. If you see it, please call  (877) SOS-WHALE ( 767-9425).

 

Earlier:

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.

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