DANA POINT – Whale-watch captains and their passengers watched in shock Friday as a playful humpback whale entangled itself in fishing gear, but rejoiced when the whale managed to free itself.
“Everybody on all three whale-watch boats cheered, it was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever had on the water,” said Capt. Dave Anderson, who operated Capt. Dave’s Dolphin Safari. “It was so awesome to see that happen.”
Anderson was on the Fast Cat, Capt. Steve Burkhalter was the Manutea and Capt. Tommy White was out on the Dana Pride. Between the three boats, there were likely more than 100 passengers.
It was about 1 p.m. and the boats were out watching multiple whales about two and-a-half miles out from Dana Point Harbor.
Burkhalter and White saw the about 50-foot humpback swim over to a shrimp trap buoy and play with it. As it played, it dove down and caught itself on the line.
“The whale was ticked off and scary mad, trying violently to get out of the trap line,” Anderson said, adding he pulled up just as the whale was thrashing.
Everybody on all the boats cheered and clapped as the whale made one big thrash and swam free. After about 10 minutes, the whale freed itself.
“It’s a good happy ending and good start to the Festival of Whales,” Anderson said.
Anderson added he had a record 26 gray whale sightings on Friday.
Just two weeks ago, a whale disentanglement team from SeaWorld freed a hog-tied, drowning humpback from fishing gear off La Jolla. The whale – a 25-foot, juvenile on migration from Baja California to Alaska – was first spotted by California Fish & Wildlife officials on a boat at 1 p.m.
Fishing line ran through its mouth, pinned down its left pectoral flipper and cinched around its tail fluke. Rescuers from SeaWorld freed the whale after a two-hour effort.
Officials from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries, who monitor entanglements, say the rescue is the first successful effort this year. Two others in January – one off Orange County, one off Los Angeles County and a gray whale off Dana Point – could not be rescued. Reports of those whales came in too late for disentanglement teams to respond, said Justin Greenman of NOAA.
In December, NOAA reported a record 63 whales off the California coast entangled in crab and lobster fishing gear, with a record 35 humpback whales reported entangled. From 2000 to 2012, an average of eight whales per year were found entangled off the California coast.
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