A California gray whale left snarled in a fishing net off Orange County last week after an unsuccessful rescue attempt was freed by biologists off Santa Barbara, officials there said.
The 25-ton whale was weak and bleeding, and rescuers were surprised that it had survived after traveling 100 miles northwest from Dana Point, said biologist Joe Cordaro with the National Marine Fisheries Service, a federal agency responsible for protecting whales, sea lions, seals and dolphins.
“We’re amazed that it even made the journey from Orange County to Santa Barbara,” Cordaro said.
The rescuers had no trouble Monday freeing the whale, which left blood on the net. But they were unable to treat its injuries because it swam off after being released to continue its migration north to Alaska.
“I’m sure it was exhausted. The nets abrade the skin; they have delicate skin,” said Jim Lecky, another biologist with the service.
Marine biologists originally tried to rescue the whale last week after it was spotted off Dana Point with a giant gill fishing net wrapped around its tail. But it was too active and wouldn’t let them near it.
They managed to place a yellow balloon marker on the whale, which was spotted Monday 5 miles off the Santa Barbara coast, Lecky said.
A warden from the state Department of Fish and Game and biologists from the U.S. Wildlife Service traveled to the whale Monday, and divers managed to cut the net free after working for hours.
Fish and Game warden Natasha Lohmus said she will examine the gill net for markings to determine who owns it and where it was used.