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Whale Tangled in Net Eludes Help, Swims Off

November 21, 1987|PAM LITTLE | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A 30-ton California gray whale, entangled in a fishing net off the coast here, on Friday swam into Mexican waters, where it could live for several weeks before eventually starving, officials said.

Earlier, divers from Sea World in San Diego were unable to get close enough to the whale to cut loose any part of the drift gill net, which was wrapped two or three times around the animal, said Sea World spokeswoman Jackie Hill. The net is used to catch swordfish and sharks.

Hill said that although the whale's hind flukes are free, enabling it to swim and dive, it is prevented from feeding because its head is covered. The species is one of a group called baleen whales, which feed by siphoning food through filter-like mouths.

"It can't siphon anything through," Hill said Friday. "I've likened it to putting a sock over it."

Doyle Hanan, a marine biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game, said that California gray whales, which are on the endangered species list, can survive without food for "several weeks or months."

The fishing vessel Corona del Mar reported to the Coast Guard just before 11 a.m. Thursday that there was a whale trapped in a floating gill net four to five miles south of Point Loma along the San Diego coast, said Coast Guard Lt. Curtis Stock.

Authorities were notified and Sea World divers equipped with masks and knives worked for 45 minutes, unsuccessfully, to free the whale, Hill said.

She said the whale would dive under water for five to seven minutes at a time before resurfacing. The divers managed to get only within a few feet of the animal.

As of Dec. 15, dropping drift gill nets will become illegal within 75 miles of the coastline. That is also about the time when whale migration typically begins.

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