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Specially trained team hopes to remove rope entangling wayward gray whale in Dana Point

May 12, 2010 |  1:09 pm

Graywhale

A team of marine mammal experts are working to remove a section of fishing rope tangled around the fluke of an ailing gray whale that has spent the last few days in the waters off Orange County.

The whale was first spotted in Dana Point Harbor late Monday morning, and Harbor Patrol attempted to convince it to swim back out to sea by making loud underwater noises. "The intent was to annoy him enough to get him to move away from the sound, but he was not annoyable," Tim Sullivan, director of sea programs at the Dana Point-based Ocean Institute, told The Times. "He just moved up and down the harbor very slowly."

Sullivan said the whale, which measures about 35 to 40 feet in length and is believed to weigh about 30 tons, appeared old -- perhaps as old as 60 -- and close to death. "We're hoping to keep it out of the harbor, so if it does die, it falls down and becomes part of the food chain in the ocean," he said.

The whale left Dana Point Harbor of its own volition Tuesday morning and was spotted swimming off nearby Doheny Beach in the afternoon. As of Wednesday morning, it had moved to the area of Baby Beach, also in Dana Point, where a crowd of eager whale-watchers have gathered, cheering each time the whale comes to the surface of the water to breathe.

It's unclear, Sullivan said in an interview with our sister blog L.A. Now, whether the rope tangled around the whale's tail is the cause of its lethargic, emaciated condition. The marine biologist also noted that the whale could be suffering from disease or infection. He told the Orange County Register that the amount of barnacles, lice and algae visible on the whale's body suggests that it might have spent too long in warm waters.

A team of marine biologists from the Ocean Institute and SeaWorld San Diego have floated a small boat toward the whale, L.A. Now reports, and will attempt to cut the rope if they can get close enough to do so.

Marine mammal experts in Massachusetts recently tried an unusual tactic to free a right whale whose upper jaw had become entangled in rope: They shot a razor-laced arrow through the rope. The whale was uninjured, and an aerial survey team later noted a similar-looking right whale, believed to be the same animal, swimming free from the rope. 

RELATED WHALE NEWS:
Japan welcomes new whaling proposal; animal advocates decry it
Whale-watchers in California are concerned over decrease in gray whale sightings

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: An Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol boat takes a closer look on Tuesday at the whale floating near the jetty at Dana Point Harbor. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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