A juvenile gray whale that had been tangled in commercial fishing gear was freed Thursday off the Palos Verdes Peninsula, a day after being spotted by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew off Orange County.
The 25- to 30-foot whale, which had several wraps of polypropylene line around its tail, was said to be in reasonably good condition and was swimming strongly after the last of the gear had been cut away.
Trained disentanglement crews from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and Marine Animal Rescue reached the cetacean just before noon and, using long poles with curved knives, cut away the last of the line at 1:30.
The line was the type used to connect lobster and crab traps to surface buoys. It's believed the whale picked up the gear off Baja California. (Gray whales are currently migrating from breeding grounds in Baja's lagoons to Arctic feeding grounds.)
This is the second rescue effort in six days off Southern California. The first, last Saturday off Dana Point, was successful after a marathon endeavor by Capt. Dave Anderson and his disentanglement team.
However, that whale, which had been dragging a large gill-net wrapped around its tail section, is believed to be the same whale that was found dead Tuesday afternoon inside Long Beach Harbor.
The latest had been traveling with a larger whale on Wednesday. Anderson and his team tried to rescue the whale Wednesday afternoon but conditions were too rough, so the team outfitted the whale with two bright buoys, so it could be spotted more easily Thursday morning.
It was spotted at about 9 a.m. by members of the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project at Point Vicente, and by a helicopter crew. It might have gone unnoticed had the buoys not been attached.
Monica DeAngelis, a marine biologist with NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, said it's unusual to have two whale entanglements in the same general area in less than a week.
But she added that whale entanglements are not uncommon. In the period from 2001 to 2011 there have been 78 entanglement reports. Thirty-one involved humpback whales and 19 involved gray whales. The others were fin whales (four), a minke whale and unidentified species (22).
People who spot an entangled whale are encouraged to call NOAA's Engangled Whale Hotline at (877) 767-9425.
-- A special thanks to researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger for helping to gather facts for this report.
-- Image shows entangled gray whale towing orange buoys that were attached Wednesday afternoon so the cetacean could be spotted more easily for a rescue attempt Thursday morning. Credit: Bobbie Hedges