A marine response team has freed a humpback whale in Monterey Bay that was so tangled in crab fishing gear that it could not move, the Marine Mammal Center said Thursday.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife first reported the trapped whale around 11:15 a.m. Saturday, noting that the fishing line was wrapped multiple times around the whale’s tail and cutting into its flesh.

A response team located the whale again Sunday and developed a plan to untangle and free it, but inclement weather prevented the group from accomplishing the task.

Giancarlo Rulli Humpback whale heavily tangled in crab fishing gear in Monterey Bay near Moss Landing, Calif.

On Monday morning, a team including staff from the Marine Mammal Center and the U.S. Coast Guard located the whale once again and was able to free it by 1 p.m. The whale had been trapped under three separate sets of crab fishing gear, including three crab pots and multiple attached fishing lines and buoys.

Julia O’Hern, the operations manager at the Marine Mammal Center’s Moss Landing triage center, said:

“It takes a true collaborative effort for a mission like this to succeed because there are so many moving pieces, such as weather conditions, distance from shore, and simply the ability to locate the entangled whale.”

The whale is more likely to survive now that it’s been freed from the netting but its outlook is still uncertain, according to the Marine Mammal Center.

It is the third whale that’s been freed from tangled netting along the West Coast in the last month. Another humpback whale was freed off Santa Cruz Island in mid-April and a gray whale was freed near Port Angeles, Washington, at the end of April.

Giancarlo Rulli The West Coast Large Whale Entanglement Response Network helps free a humpback whale from tangled netting in Monterey Bay near Moss Landing, Calif. Monday, May 18, 2020.

O’Hern said:

“Our work responding to entangled whales is absolutely critical and it’s going to take research, innovation and partnerships with fishermen, industries and agencies to solve the more complex problems that lead to entanglements in the first place.”

Members of the public can report entangled whales along the West Coast by calling (877) 767-9425. Sick and injured marine mammals can also be reported to the Marine Mammal Center at (415) 289-7325.

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