Rescuers off California on Tuesday freed a badly tangled humpback whale caught by fishing anchors that were dragging it to the ocean floor.
A crew that included members of the state's whale-entanglement teams, fishermen, academics, marine veterinarians and the U.S. Coast Guard unsnagged the whale after nearly eight hours of cutting off fishing lines, buoys and anchor lines wrapped around the animal, team leader Pieter Folkens said by phone from near the rescue site.
The trapped whale was spotted two miles off Northern California on Thursday, and by Tuesday it was struggling to breathe, Folkens said.
The animal had two fishing lines running through its mouth, at least six fishing buoys wrapped around a fin and fishing anchors pulling its tail straight down, Folkens said.
Once freed, the whale circled the rescuers' boat before swimming away.
Folkens, who said he expects the whale to survive, called that a typical response of inspecting predators. Fishermen in the rescue took it as the animal thanking them, he said.
Spokesman Michael Milstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the agency will try to identify the shrimping vessels believed responsible for the lines.
It was the seventh instance this year of humpbacks caught in fishing gear off the West Coast.
Conservation groups have pushed regulators to do more to compel fishing crews to reduce the number of whale entanglements, including 54 humpbacks caught in crabbing gear last year.