Whale seen tangled in net, struggling as it swims up coast from San Diego

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This humpback whale, tangled in fishing net and ropes, was spotted struggling up the coast from San Diego. (Photo: Mark Girardeau)

SAN DIEGO — Wildlife photographers and a SeaWorld rescue team were concerned about a whale seen tangled in fishing nets and ropes as it made its way up the coast from San Diego last weekend.

The humpback, last seen near Laguna Beach with a few other whales, was first spotted in San Diego Friday. A SeaWorld spokesperson told FOX 5 they were alerted by National Marine Fisheries Service and sent two boats to try to help the struggling giant.

The team caught up to the whale about 10 miles off the coast of La Jolla, but it was too dangerous to get close to the animal.

“The whale, although compromised by the entanglement, was still swimming very rapidly,” SeaWorld spokesperson David Koontz explained. “It was also maneuvering (turning) often and was diving repeatedly (underwater for 3 to 4 minutes at a time).”

Wildlife photographer Domenic Biagini shared a striking photo of the animal’s face tangled in the net. “This is a humpback whale severely entangled in drift/ghost gillnet: a barbaric method of commercial fishing that should not exist,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “This whale was simply too distressed for any sort of rescue attempt to be made safely.”

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I don’t have the words to describe the heartbreak, but I do want to tell you a little more about these images. This is a Humpback Whale severely entangled in drift/ghost gillnet: a barbaric method of commercial fishing that should not exist. These lines are set up constantly around San Diego, oftentimes in some of the most critical areas for marine mammals. It’s maddening to see, and it’s effects on our local wildlife are severely underreported. Despite efforts from the Seaworld rescue team, this whale was simply too distressed for any sort of rescue attempt to be made safely. The most important thing we can do now is share this post to try and raise awareness to this horrific practice, and the consequences if it continues. Let’s try to put an end to these drift/ghost gillnet style fishing methods! • • • • #gonewhalewatching #discoverocean #earthcapture #wildlifeplanet #ourplanetdaily #conservation #yourshotphotographer #emptythetanks #saveourseas

A post shared by Domenic Biagini (@dolphindronedom) on

The SeaWorld team was forced to turn away as the animal continued north, where it was spotted about halfway between Dana Point and Catalina on Saturday. “It is our hope that as it continues to swim north, that it will be re-sighted,” Koontz said. “There are other trained whale disentanglement teams up the coast that could be deployed.”

On Sunday, drone photographer Mark Girardeau spotted the animal, this time off the coast of Laguna Beach. The net wasn’t clearly visible, but the humpback was still tangled in rope, “preventing it from moving its right pectoral flipper,” Girardeau said.

“We found it too late in the day for rescue crews to respond and lighting was tough for the drone to get a good aerial angle. It was also taking somewhat long dives and only coming up for a couple breathes so it was hard to track,” the photographer, who shared his video with FOX 5, said. “It’s unfortunate that these whales have to navigate through humans’ mess of gill nets, which kill everything that swims through them.”

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Yesterday, @dolphindronedom documented a humpback whale completely entangled in gill nets and rope off San Diego. Today we found the same whale 13 miles off Laguna Beach along with several other humpbacks. It seems as if it may have lost the gill net but still has ropes entangled around it’s left fluke and around its body preventing it from moving its right pectoral flipper. We found it too late in the day for rescue crews to respond and lighting was tough for the drone to get a good aerial angle, it was also taking somewhat long dives and only coming up for a couple breathes so it was hard to track. We’ll be on the lookout for it tomorrow. It’s unfortunate that these whales have to navigate through humans mess of gill nets which kill everything that swims through them

A post shared by Mark Girardeau (@markgirardeau) on

Girardeau’s crew was able to find the animal again on Monday. This time, he found a potential reason for optimism.

“You can see the gill net around its right pectoral flipper, also notice that the rope is behind the dorsal fin whereas yesterday it was ahead of the dorsal fin,” the photographer wrote. “So this whale may be slowly shedding the ropes by itself.”

Experts at SeaWorld urged boaters to keep their distance and contact authorities if they see the sea mammal in distress. “It would be very dangerous at this time to approach the whale,” Koontz told FOX 5.

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