Authorities worked Friday afternoon to untangle a humpback whale that became wrapped in a fishing line about a mile off Newport Beach’s Balboa Pier.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol received a call around noon that a whale had become caught in a line attached to a lobster pot, a device that commercial fishermen use to catch lobsters. It consists of a metal cage-like structure that sits on the ocean floor with a fishing line attached that extends to the surface with a number attached for identification.
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 and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach to arrive on an inflatable boat to untangle the whale. The whale entanglement team is often dispatched to help whales in distress, authorities said.
On Friday evening, authorities were still trying to untangle the whale, but the humpback — which had traveled south to Laguna Beach — was not making it easy. As crews worked to free the whale, it would dive deep into the water and out of sight.
“The entanglement team thinks he’s getting irritated at them,” said Harbor Patrol Sgt. Steve Marble. “They have a few swimmers in the water but they haven’t been able to get close enough to untangle him.”
If the whale cannot be freed of the line by dark, the team plans to attach a GPS unit to it and try again Saturday, Marble said.
Marble said that during lobster season from October through March, whales sometimes become tangled in lines attached to lobster pots. An average of eight whales get caught in fishing lines each year in California, according to NOAA data from 2000 to 2012.
“It seems to be happening more and more with the start of this lobster season,” Marble said.
He attributed the increase to unusually warm ocean temperatures that have brought more whales to the Southern California coast.