Rescuers Free Whale Entangled in Fishing Line

1 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California rescuers free entangled whale in 2-day operation.

A whale watching boat first spotted the whale off the coast of Newport Beach near Los Angeles on Friday, and The National Marine Fisheries Service agencies were able to cut off about 100 feet of line.

After a challenging effort Friday afternoon to untangle a humpback whale that became wrapped in a fishing gear near the Balboa Pier, authorities hoped to continue trying to free the whale Saturday in San Diego. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol received a call about noon Friday that a whale had become caught in at least 250 feet of Dungeness crab nets and buoys. Crews on Harbor Patrol boats and whale-watching vessels took turns monitoring the massive mammal while they waited for a team sent by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to arrive on an inflatable boat to untangle the whale.

The whale is believed to be the same creature that was seen struggling with ropes several days ago off Santa Barbara, about 75 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Justin Viezbicke, a NOAA program specialist who was part of Friday’s rescue effort, told The Associated Press. Getting caught in fishing gear, which the fishing industry calls “bycatch,” afflicts more than ten different species of cetaceans, from the North Atlantic right whale to the more obscure – and highly endangered – vaquita, whose name means “little cow” in Spanish. NOAA’s whale rescue team has responded to about 50 entangled whales since January — a spike that could be attributed to warmer waters bringing the giant animals closer to shore, where they encounter fishing gear, Viezbicke said.

Smaller whales, like porpoises and the vaquita, are at greater risk, since they are closer to the size of the swordfish and tuna that the fishing nets are designed to catch. According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation group, more than 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises die as bycatch every year, either from drowning or from the injuries sustained while struggling to escape. On Saturday, the experts were back in pursuit in inflatable boats, trying to use underwater cameras to figure out exactly how badly the whale’s mouth was entwined. “The rope is pretty embedded in the corners of the mouth and coming under the pectoral fin,” NOAA whale rescue expert Justin Viezbicke told the Guardian on Saturday. “Then one line goes over the tail, one comes under the tail and it’s in a big knot about 15ft behind the whale so that it’s difficult for it to move its tail. NOAA reports that bycatch deaths of dolphins have fallen more than 99 percent since the 1950s, largely due to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which required fishing companies to reduce their bycatch to “insignificant levels approaching zero.” The law required officials to fund scientific studies, place observers on fishing boats, inspect fishing gear, and investigate boat captains with high whale or dolphin mortality rates. It’s pretty bad.” Whale rescue experts on the east coast sometimes use sedative darts to slow a whale and help disentangle it in similar scenarios, Viezbicke said.

Oct. 31 to add information about rescue attempts off San Diego and to correct information about the type of fishing equipment in which the whale became entangled. Central American and Western North Pacific whale populations were updated from endangered to threatened in April 2015. “The return of the iconic humpback whale is an [Endangered Species Act] success story,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. The region is bracing for the El Niño cyclical weather pattern, which has been warming vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean in recent months and thus strengthened the power of hurricane Patricia last weekend.

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