SEATTLE -- An urgent search is underway for a thin gray whale last seen Saturday entangled in fishing gear in north Puget Sound.
Sea Life Response, Rehabilitation and Research (SR3) and other members of Cascadia Research Collective want to find the whale, remove the gear and assess its health. Whales are usually strong enough to swim away when they are first entangled, but over time that gear can cause painful wounds to the animal and restrict its swimming or breathing.
NOAA Fisheries said the gray whale had a crab trap around its body. Fishing line held one float tight to the left side of the whale’s mouth and then exited the right side of the whale’s mouth, trailing underneath the right flipper to a second float positioned just forward of its tail flukes.
Initial sightings of the whale showed it was very thin, which prompted concern among researchers.
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"Anytime the public will encounter an entangled whale take videos or photographs," Casey McClain a veterinary nurse at SR3 said.
The gray whale was spotted by a ferry captain on Friday.
Wildlife responders attempted to disentangle the whale on Saturday but called off their effort because of bad weather. Instead, they placed a tracking device on the whale so they could monitor it.
On Sunday, the owner of a yacht reported seeing the whale swim under his boat near Port Hadlock. It's believed the whale's encounter with the boat cut some of the fishing line, but also dislodged the tracking device. The whale hasn't been seen since.
Last week, an entangled gray whale died and washed ashore on the outer coast of Washington.
If you come across an entangled whale, it is extremely important to keep an eye on the animal at a safe distance (to protect yourself and avoid scaring off the whale).
Take photos and video, and call 1-877-SOS-WHALE. If possible, it is helpful to remain with the whale until a trained and experienced team arrives. Although whales are large, it can end up feeling like looking for a very large needle in a very large haystack – our oceans.
As a reminder, only permitted and trained personnel under NOAA Fisheries' Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (permit # 18786-02) are authorized to respond to entangled whales. Attempting to disentangle a whale without training and authorization is not only dangerous to the responder but also the whale.