Search resumes for blue whale tangled in line off Catalina

Boaters from Catalina Island, Orange and Santa Barbara counties were searching Saturday for an 80-foot-long blue whale entangled in fishing line.

The search effort, which began at 8 a.m. and continues until nightfall, is being coordinated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and consists of two helicopters, one airplane and dozens of volunteer skippers, Peter Wallerstein of Marine Animal Rescue said.

"It's a bunch of boaters from Orange, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties -- nothing official," Wallerstein said, noting that those volunteers are being asked to report sightings to the Coast Guard. "If you see it, just stay by it and don't do anything to try to save it.''

The blue whale -- which may be in distress, but likely is not in immediate danger -- was last seen Friday evening traveling south from Catalina Island, but it now could be closer to Newport Beach, Wallerstein said.

Rescuers attached a large buoy to the tangled line that the whale was dragging to make it easier to find, he said. The whale could have a net or a crab pot attached to it, and rescuers on Friday were using poles with knives to try to free it.

"Nobody has ever tried to rescue a blue whale before,'' Wallerstein said, noting though that smaller gray whales have been successfully rescued.

Blue whales are believed to be the largest mammals to have lived on the planet, measuring about 80 feet on average, which makes rescues extremely dangerous.

"The tail could swamp the boat,'' Wallerstein said, so he urges any boaters who see the whale not to attempt to rescue it themselves.

Harbor Breeze Cruises founder and boat captain Dan Salas said the tangled whale was spotted Friday during one of the company's cruises done in partnership with the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

Whale watchers first saw the leviathan about five miles south of Point Fermin Lighthouse in San Pedro. It was pulling about 300 feet of line, Salas said.

"We've seen a lot of blue whales these past few months, and everything seemed ordinary at first, but then our captain noticed the whale was (entangled),'' said Salas, who has been in the whale-watching business since 1990. "We immediately notified the Coast Guard and NOAA, and our captain stayed with the whale.''

Salas said the whale was swimming, diving for the krill it feeds on and breathing regularly, although it was moving more slowly as the day progressed.

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