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Marine rescue teams search for entangled blue whale off California coast

Marine mammal rescue teams were hoping on Tuesday to renew their attempt to disentangle a blue whale found enmeshed in fishing line off the Southern California coast a day after initial efforts to free the giant creature failed.

Humpback, gray whales often get caught in fishing gear, but blue whale incidents are rare

A blue whale raises its tail above the water surface off the coast of Long Beach, Calif. during unseasonably warm weather on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. Another such creature has become entangled in a fishing line off the Southern California coast. (Nick Ut/Associated Press)

Marine mammal rescue teams were hoping on Tuesday to renew their attempt to disentangle a blue whale found enmeshed in fishing line off the Southern California coast a day after initial efforts to free the giant creature failed.

Rescuers broke off their first encounter with the 24-metre long whale on Monday when the animal appeared to become distressed, said Michael Milstein, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Blue whales, an endangered species that can grow up to 100 feet in length and weigh close to 200 tons, rank as the largest living animals on Earth. They migrate north along the Pacific Coast in summer to the Arctic, leaving behind their tropical wintering grounds off Mexico.

Whale entanglements are not uncommon. Last year, 61 whales were found caught up in fishing gear, nets and buoy lines, and nearly 40 have been reported enmeshed so far this year along the West Coast, Milstein said.

Blue whales rarely get entangled

But most entanglements involve gray and humpback whales, which tend to swim closer to shore, while blue whales are more common in the open ocean, according to Milstein. 

The whale was first spotted about 48 kilometres off San Diego over the weekend and then again on Monday by the crew of a whale-watching tour vessel near Dana Point, about 105 kilometres to the north, dragging about 30 metres of fishing lines and buoys.

The line, probably attached to crab traps trailing beneath the surface, appeared to be caught around one of the whale's front flippers and looped over its tail, Milstein said, encumbering its ability to swim and feed.

Agitated whale submerged

Crew members from the whale-watching boat, joined in the rescue by NOAA officers, local harbour patrol and sheriff's deputies, spent hours trying to slice away the entanglement using cutters on long poles when the whale surfaced to breathe.

The effort grew more difficult as the animal appeared to become agitated and began submerging for longer periods of time, and rescuers ultimately gave up for the day, Milstein said.

By Tuesday morning, authorities had lost sight of the whale and were asking tour boats and other vessels to be on the lookout for the whale in hopes of making a second rescue attempt

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