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Rescuers continue search for distressed 80-foot blue whale off Catalina Island

Assisted by aircraft flying over the area, wildlife rescuers resumed their search Saturday in the waters off Catalina Island for a distressed blue whale.

The 80-foot mammal, which had become entangled in what’s believed to be heavy fishing line, was last seen late Friday between Los Angeles Harbor and Catalina, said Jim Milbury, a spokesman for the NOAA Marine Fisheries Service.

Milbury said officials had asked pilots in the area to keep any eye out for a red buoy. 

Crews had earlier attached the buoy to the line to discourage the whale from diving and to better track the animal.

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If someone spots the buoy or the whale, Milbury said they should keep at least 1,000 feet away and call the Coast Guard or (877) SOS-WHALE.

Peter Wallerstein of Playa del Rey-based Marine Animal Rescue echoed that warning.

“Stay away from the whale,” he said, noting that the whale was the biggest his crew has ever attempted to rescue.

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Because of the buoy, Wallerstein said he was hopeful the whale would be spotted Saturday.

So far, he said, 2015 has been his “busiest year in 30 years of rescues” with the nonprofit group. He said the group has assisted in rescuing 457 marine animals in the waters off L.A. County this year.

He attributed the spike to warmer water temperatures during El Niño, which he said sends sea lion mothers farther out searching for food. Many pups then leave their mothers too young, he said, because they’re starving.

The largest animals on Earth, blue whales can grow to more than 100 feet long and weigh 150 tons. About a quarter of the estimated worldwide population of 10,000 congregate in the waters off the U.S. West Coast.

For more news follow @marisagerber.

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