Rescuers Search for Entangled Baby Whale

April 20, 2021 Updated: April 20, 2021

SAN CLEMENTE—Whale watchers up and down the coast of Southern California April 20 were on the lookout for an entangled baby gray whale first spotted near the San Clemente Pier.

Efforts to disentangle what appeared to be fishing lines wrapped around the calf’s head were unsuccessful April 19 as rescuers on an inflatable and two support boats attempted to pull off the lines with a telemetry buoy, said Justin Viezbicke of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The lines entangled on the baby’s head “just kept breaking,” but “the main part of the entanglement is still there,” Viezbicke said. “So obviously, that’s a concern to us.”

When the sun went down, rescuers lost sight of the baby and its mother, who was protective and alarmed by all the commotion, making rescue attempts more difficult.

“We have not had any sightings of the whale today,” Viezbicke said April 20, adding that its now a “waiting game.”

The baby gray whale, which could eventually grow to be up to 40 feet long and weigh about 40 tons, is migrating through Southern California’s waters from Baja California up to Alaska. Gray whales are distinguishable by a lack of dorsal fin and their dark gray coloring, typically with white barnacle scars or colored whale lice on their backs. They appear off the Los Angeles coastline typically between January and April.

Because the whales are in a northbound migration, Viezbicke said rescuers are “alerting our folks up north … all the way up to Monterey Bay.”

Viezbicke praised local whale watching organizations, sheriff’s deputies and the Pacific Mammal Marine Center for their help trying to rescue the whale.

“We’re very appreciative of the overall effort,” he said.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, there have been more than 280 reported whale entanglements along the West Coast between 2015 and 2020, mostly around California, and the nonprofit organization has been advocating for a Whale Entanglement Prevention Act that would require trap fisheries to convert to rope-less gear to help prevent such tragedies.

“It’s heartbreaking to see this baby whale entangled in fishing gear as its mother helplessly watches. This is a grim reminder of why we must do more to prevent whale entanglements off California’s coast,” said Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Boaters are asked to keep an eye out for the entangled baby whale, and to stay with it if it is safe to do so. But experts warn that distressed whales may act unpredictably, so people should not approach the whale or attempt to remove entanglements without proper gear and training.

Report entanglements to 877-SOS-WHAL or 877-767-9425.