Featured Image Credit: Dana Point
By Laura O’Brien
Entanglement is a serious and often fatal problem for marine mammals. Fishing nets and other debris can trap animals, and even cause necrosis. Necrosis in the tissue where the debris is constricting an animal’s extremities can result in loss of limbs; which can be a death sentence. Some marine mammals become entangled in ways that prevent them from being able to get to the surface in order to breathe. Some nets trap marine mammals in ways that restrict their movements. Even if the net does not restrict the animal’s movement initially, the weight of the net may eventually cause the exhausted mammal to starve or drown.
This December, a 30-foot gray whale was spotted near Newport Beach. The gentle giant was entangled in a gill net, and the line trailed behind the whale for about one-hundred and fifty feet. Paddleboarders were the first to spot the whale dragging the massive net on December 11th. The owner of Newport Coastal Adventure, Ryan Lawler, went to the area in order to learn more about the situation. He flew a drone in order to determine how seriously the whale had become entangled. Lawler said that the whale’s movement appeared to be restricted. Rescuers convened around the whale in an effort to remove the net from its tail. Members of both the Pacific Marine Mammal Center of Laguna Beach and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration worked for hours to free the whale. The team was able to make multiple cuts to the net, and Justin Viezbicke of the NOAA said that the whale appeared to have increased mobility by the time that it swam away.
Although the whale had not been totally freed from the net by the time that it swam away, the large mass of net appeared to have detached from its tail. The whale did a fluke-up dive, which indicates that the team had successfully increased the whale’s mobility, as it had not been attempting that motion prior to its departure. Viezbicke hopes that the team was able to remove enough net to allow the remainder to loosen as the whale moves. Officials requested that the public keeps a lookout for the whale, to see if its condition has improved.
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