Gray whale tangled in metal fishing frame spotted off coast of Newport Harbor

Rescuers are searching for a gray whale that got caught in a metal fishing frame as it swam north off the coast of Southern California, according a conservation group.

The tangled mammal was spotted about 3:30 p.m. Saturday outside Dana Point Harbor, according to the American Cetacean Society’s Los Angeles Chapter. The whale’s head appeared to be lodged in a metal frame fishing gear.

“This unusual entanglement includes large metal gear that likely goes through its mouth,” the group wrote in a Facebook post.

Hours after being spotted off Dana Point Harbor, the whale was seen swimming with another whale about a mile off Newport Harbor, the conservation group said on Facebook.

The group asked boaters to look out for the whale, take photographs and note any developments. Boaters should not approach or attempt to detangle the whale, they said.

“It may still be in the Santa Monica Channel, or may have already passed [Point Dume] on its way toward Oxnard,” the organization wrote in the post.

Anyone with details about the whale is urged to call National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s entanglement reporting hotline (877) 767-9425.

Rescuers are hoping to develop a plan to approach the whale and remove the metal framing, said Justin Viezbicke, stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries’ California Stranding Network.

Viezbicke said rescuers are trying to determine if the framing belongs to a fishery. Rescuers are hoping to identify any weak points in the metal, so that when they approach the whale, they can work quickly to remove the framing from its head, he said.

“It’s going to be very problematic in getting the time and space,” Viezbicke said.

The mammal is the third tangled whale spotted off the coast of Southern California in the last two weeks, according to the group.

The first tangled whale was spotted March 19 off Dana Point, the group said. The mammal’s fin appeared to be wrapped in a fishing net with small black floats.

On Tuesday afternoon, a gray whale tangled in pink netting was seen about a mile off the Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area, the group said.

In 2016, 71 separate cases of entangled whales were reported off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington, as well as in neighboring countries with gear from U.S. fisheries, according to NOAA Fisheries. This is the highest annual total for the West Coast of the U.S. since the organization started keeping records in 1982.

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

Twitter: VeronicaRochaLA


UPDATES:

10:10 a.m.: This article was updated with comment’s from Justin Viezbicke, stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries’ California Stranding Network.

This article was originally published at 9:40 a.m.

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