Humpback Whale Freed From Fishing Line—but Many Sea Creatures Aren’t So Lucky

Roughly 1,000 marine mammals die daily from fishing entanglements.
Humpback whale. (Photo: Rodrigo Buendia/Getty Images)
Nov 1, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

After days of struggling and swimming more than 100 miles in the Pacific Ocean, a humpback whale finally regained its freedom after rescuers successfully released it from hundreds of feet of fishing line.

Although the rescue mission took two days, the whale had been battling what appeared to be nylon rope since the beginning of the week. It was first spotted entangled in fishing line off the Santa Barbara, California, coast, some 75 miles north of Los Angeles, before being seen again in Orange County on Friday. Observers told CBS Los Angeles the whale had clearly been in distress as it moved slowly, dragging the line in its mouth and behind it. After a two-day rescue mission, the marine mammal was successfully freed in San Diego on Saturday.

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and SeaWorld combined forces to remove the fishing gear, which included buoys and possibly lobster pots.

NOAA official Justin Viezbicke told The Associated Press that the organization has responded to as many as 50 entanglements since the start of the year, an uptick it believes could be caused by warming ocean waters bringing whales closer to shore, where they’re more likely to encounter fishing gear.

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Entanglements kill nearly 1,000 marine mammals each day, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Although many are smaller animals, getting caught in fishing line is the greatest threat to every whale species. Not only does being caught in the line make it difficult for whales to swim and dive for food, but they’re also more vulnerable to ship strikes and infections.

NOAA officials are hopeful they can use this rescue mission to prevent future entanglements. Some of the buoys recovered were marked, so the team can figure out where the whale became entangled.

“Our response network is really just a Band-Aid,” Viezbicke told the AP. “We’re looking for ways to be proactive and minimize these situations in the future.”