Crew rescues gray whale off Laguna coast

A sub-adult gray whale, nicknamed "Bart," is swimming freely once more after a rescue team disentangled it from marine debris off the coast of Laguna Beach this weekend.

A crew from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and National Marine Fisheries Services spent Saturday cutting away more than 50 feet of gill net and rope that had wrapped around the whale's fluke, according to a news release from the center.

"As we reeled in the netting, we were appalled at what we saw," Scott Sedlick, PMMC staff member, said in a statement. "In the netting we identified several deceased animals, including one adult sea lion, a 5-foot leopard shark, two angel sharks, various spider crabs, fish and rays."

Animals often become entangled and drown in the netting fishermen use and discard, according to the PMMC.

"This was a snapshot into what is going on in the oceans all over the world," said Capt. Dave Anderson, of Captain Dave's Dolphin & Whale Safari. "Unfortunately, thousands of marine animals die every day from similar circumstances."

Anderson was the first to respond to the call about the distressed whale Friday night. He attached a buoy to the whale to maintain visibility and tracking. The whale was named "Bart" after the boater who monitored it overnight.

The whale was first spotted near Dana Point Harbor, but by Saturday morning it was a few hundred yards offshore from Emerald Bay.

A team of volunteers assembled to cut the whale free. The team included Anderson, Sedlick, PMMC volunteer Dana Friedman, Tom Southern, photographer Mike Johnson, Steve Planze, Barry Curtis and Mark Tyson.

They used buoys, a flying knife, grappling hooks and lines to reel in the whale and cut away the gill net.

After almost seven hours of work, the whale was finally free.

"The support team on the nearby boat erupted in cheers," Friedman said in a statement. "They confirmed that they could not longer see any debris hindering the whale."

Once free, the whale remained close to the rescuers but appeared to be in healthy condition.

"It was a pleasure to work with such a great team that willingly came together to free Bart," Sedlick said. "We saved a whale today — I'd say that's a pretty good day."

kellyparker@latimes.com

Twitter: @KellyParkerTCN

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