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Whale freed from fishing net off Palos Verdes

March 29, 2012 |  3:45 pm

Gray whale II
A team of volunteers Thursday cut a gray whale loose from fishing gear it was tangled in off the coast of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the second such rescue operation in Southern California in five days.

Trained specialists used a blade mounted on a telescoping pole to cut free fishing line and buoys that were wrapped around the young whale's tail.

It took several hours of precise work to cut the animal free, said Kelli Lewis, education director for the Laguna Beach-based Pacific Marine Mammal Center, whose volunteers undertook the operation in collaboration with members of the El Segundo group Marine Animal Rescue.

“It’s sort of like running after a horse with a pencil and trying to slip that pencil through its reins," Lewis said.  "It’s about a 25- to-30-foot gray whale that’s moving at about 6 knots and you’re in a small boat, so you don’t have a lot of leverage and you’re not nearly as agile as the whale."

The whale, one of a pair swimming up the coast, was spotted Wednesday by a helicopter off the Orange County coast. The whale disentanglement team mobilized after the animal was sighted again Thursday morning off Point Vicente in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Over the weekend, volunteers freed another gray whale from about 50 feet of netting off the Orange County coast and wildlife officials are investigating whether it is the same whale found dead Tuesday in Long Beach Harbor.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service is studying the fishing gear recovered from both animals to detemine whether it came from California waters or another country.

Gray whales swim north along the California coast each year as part of their annual migration from Baja California to the Arctic, with their numbers in Southern California peaking in recent weeks.


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Photo: The gray whale was tangled in 50 feet of fishing net. Credit: KTLA